Julen Lopetegui walked over to see referee Andy Madley, armed with evidence.
After the controversial conclusion to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ FA Cup third-round draw 2-2 against Liverpool on Saturday, coach and captain Ruben Neves headed into the officials’ dressing room to demand answers, clutching a laptop.
They thought defender Totti Gomez had witnessed a great winning goal that was ruled out for offside eight minutes into the match.
By the time they went to talk to Madley and his assistants, they were confident they were right thanks to a picture that VAR Mike Dean couldn’t see.
Lopetegui was provided holding a monitor from a tactical camera high in the gantry at the moment the ball (circled in blue) left Hwang Hee-chan’s head on its way to corner guard Matheus Nunes (circled in yellow, bottom left).
The Portuguese player appeared to play alongside Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold (circled, above right) and Lopetegui took the laptop and photo to confront Madley.
The coach and captain were allowed into the referee’s room five minutes after the final whistle – a rare departure from tradition, as officials generally insisted on a 30-minute “cool-off” period before speaking to coaches.
Neves’ presence as a member of the Wolves side on the field was highly unusual, but it reflected the anger inside the dressing room over the sense of injustice generated by what they felt was an incorrect initial decision and serious flaws in the VAR process.
“We spoke with the referee,” Lopetegui said. “It was very polite to hear us. They can make mistakes – I make a mistake every day.”
He tried to explain it to me but it was just too obvious. I made it more or less clear to him that we believed that goal was valid.
“We are unlucky with the decision and unlucky because we have a lot of chances to win this match.”
While Lopetegui exuded composure in his media duties, he was furious when he left the touchline at Anfield and asked to speak to Madley.
Anger and frustration returned on the journey home as players and officials scoured social media to find more clear evidence supporting their case that was not available to VAR Dean and Assistant Referee Simon Bennett.
While Dean is an easy target, Saturday’s major faults seem to lie elsewhere. However, it would be no comfort for Wolves, after they were denied a place in the fourth round due to a poor initial decision and a farcical turn of events involving the VAR system.
The club will contact the FA and match refereeing body PGMOL in the coming days to demand an official explanation. But this is what we already know.
“I didn’t even know it was me,” Matthews said as the dust settled after the game.
“From the footage and the picture I didn’t even know I was. I saw it but I couldn’t see myself.”
He was not alone. It took a while to filter out the words that Matthaus had been snubbed by assistant referee Nick Hopton in the 82nd minute in place of ‘top scorer’ Totti.
But it takes longer to understand why Dean and Bennett are so resolute in the decision to disqualify the clear Wolves winner.
In order to draw a line parallel to the byline that can definitely prove whether a player is offside, VAR technology uses two separate camera angles that are combined and calibrated to create a comprehensive picture of the incident.
When Dean and Bennett try to check Hopton’s sneak call against Matthews, they find that the announcers haven’t been giving them the angles they need.
Basically, at least one of the cameras zoomed in too tightly on the 18-yard square, meaning that Matthews, who took the first corner, was just off shooting at the crucial moment when the ball found its way back to him via a flick of Hwang’s head. .
The pair were presented with a single image from a tactical camera, similar to the one Lopetegui had seen, but the decision was so adamant that they decided they did not have enough hard evidence to overturn Hopton’s field call.
A look at ITV’s coverage highlights the problem. The moment the ball leaves Hwang’s head, Mateus can’t be seen.
And while the midfielder reappears a split second later, the image is useless to the VAR system, who were unable to overrule Hopton on the presumption.
Sources at ITV, which has 17 cameras at Anfield – more than the record for an ITV game – say the enlargement of the penalty area was in line with standard production practice and that the broadcaster is unable to supply VAR with footage showing the player in question. It was a “strange” event.
Dean was certainly not provided with footage taken from Sir Kenny Dalglish’s stand – the same side of the field where Hopton was stationed – which was later circulated on social media.
A screenshot from that footage, taken at the moment the ball left Hwang’s head, appears to show that Hopton erred in his initial decision.
Wolves were also upset by a previous VAR decision, which confirmed that Mohamed Salah’s goal to put Liverpool 2-1 up in the 52nd minute should stand even though Al-Masry was in an offside position when the ball was lifted towards him.
But, while Wolverhampton fans will no doubt feel Law is an ass, Dean’s decision was a relatively simple one based on the guidance of IFAB football’s legislators.
While he appears to fly in the face of natural justice, the directions to the referees posted on the IFAB website make it clear that Totti’s misdirected header as he attempted to intercept the pass meant Salah could not be offside.
The directive states that “saves” by defenders or goalkeepers will still result in offside awards, but deliberate attempts to play the ball will not.
However, the law itself continues to be criticized on social media by former Wolves players.
“I am really sick and tired of the offside law that allowed Salah’s goal,” wrote Carl Henry. “It’s complete nonsense! No one would tell me otherwise. I raised this at a meeting with the IFAB a few years ago. Unfortunately, only pressure from current players and coaches will force their hand.”
“The wolves have been stolen,” Dave Edwards wrote. “Salah’s goal is one of the most comical rules in football!”
Lopetegui has made his feelings clear.
“It’s a special situation, but if a player is offside – and he’s very clear with a meter – when the ball comes from a team-mate, he takes advantage of that position, even though the ball is out of Totti,” he said.
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