It's been 20 days since the Women's World Cup kicked off. 20 short, short days in which we've seen records shattered, new laws applied, upsets, people being upset, penalties, penalties, VAR, penalties, VAR and VAR again.
The tournament is reaching its final stages, down to just the eight elite teams who'll fight it out to hold the world championship belt (it's a belt, right?) for the next four years. This is where the finest margins separate the best sides, where the smallest decisions could be the difference between glory and four years in the wilderness.
Hell, there are still Olympic places up for grabs.
Getting refereeing decisions right is more important than ever, when matches – futures, careers – can hinge on a single decision. This is why VAR was brought into football, to get these decisions right and to make sure the human error of a non-player doesn't make the difference. It's the perfect system.
Which, obviously, is why this has been one of the most controversial World Cups ever on the refereeing side, with more penalties awarded already than any Women's World Cup in history. And we haven't even kicked off the quarter-finals yet.
Pierluigi Collina came out this week in his role as chairman of FIFA's Referees Committee and gave a 90 minute press conference which...could charitably be described as 'detailed', and less charitably described as 'like a bald Bielsa'. He got out from behind the desk and showed people screenshots of VAR decisions on his phone, to 'prove' that they were correct. They were, as they say, the actions of a severely rattled man.
The Pro Evolution cover star is on the defensive after three weeks of controversy, including Cameroon disagreeing with a VAR ruling on the pitch against England, new penalty laws for goalkeepers being enforced (in a new way), Japan being knocked out by a VAR-awarded penalty for a harsh handball, and suggestions that the biggest event in the women's game has been used as a 'guinea pig' for changes.
Big difference between level of VAR involvement in 2018 men's World Cup and other recent tournaments, including 2019 women's World Cup. This would seem to be part of the problem (VAR over-involvement), but FIFA's Pierluigi Collina says it is actually an advance. pic.twitter.com/Syzqm8fb9i— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 26, 2019
In a lot of ways, Collina's explanations were fair – the World Cup was unfortunate to kick off a couple of days earlier than the Under-20 World Cup, Copa America and AFCON, but all of those have been applying the same laws.
There's still some tone deafness about the penalty thing though. "The vast majority of penalties taken [before June 1 rule-change] were wrongly taken, particularly those saved, because it was almost impossible for the goalkeeper to respect the laws. We had to change something. We have been surprised [by the criticism]...honestly, we thought we made the goalkeeper's job easier."
To an extent, he's right. But by applying the new, more lenient law to the letter – while the old law was not applied – they haven't made the goalkeeper's job easier. If the old law had been applied, then the change would be welcomed. It wasn't, so it hasn't been.
What They've Said
"I genuinely cannot understand what's going on in this tournament," Casey Stoney, Manchester United Women's manager.
"There have been some strange situations of course...Goal-line technology is good for the game but I don't think anyone has the final solution for VAR yet," Thomas Dennerby, Nigeria manager.
"There was just a miscarriage of justice. Why should I talk about anything else. A game and a sport and the referee made a lot of mistakes," Alain Djeumfa, Cameroon coach.
"We were prepared for Cameroon to be really physical, but it seems like the ref in our game was a little lenient...I'm not sure if they're thinking about the fact that you can only get two cards before you miss a game, but if you set an example you won't have to give a lot of cards," Ali Riley, New Zealand captain.
"We were trying to tell the ref that [Spain were too physical] in the beginning, it felt like they were up Alex [Morgan]'s back every single time and it wasn't called that much," Megan Rapinoe, USA captain.
"Ultimately we've got to get on with it, whether it's right or wrong it's the rule. Maybe everyone at the World Cup should stop moaning about it, because it's not going to change," Phil Neville, England coach.
"It just seems cruel. It just seems really really cruel, and so pedantic. For something so new to be introduced on such a big stage is kind of hard to get your head around in terms of changing habits," Karen Bardsley, England goalkeeper.