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Concacaf to Implement VAR for Rest of 2022 World Cup Qualifying

Concacaf's final two windows of 2022 World Cup qualifying will feature something that the first three did not: VAR.

The region's governing body said Wednesday that it will be implementing video assistant referees in all of the remaining six qualifying matchdays, altering the calculus for all eight teams more than halfway into the Octagonal. 

Concacaf had come under fire for not having VAR ready for the start of qualifying, given the stakes of the competition. Its reasoning at the time was that not enough venues in enough competing countries could support the technology, nor was there enough VAR-qualified referees. Those problems are no longer a factor, according to a statement released Wednesday.

"For 2022, Concacaf can now confirm it has a large enough pool of VAR qualified referees, and VAR certified venues, which provide the confederation with the resources to further implement the technology in men’s and women's tournaments taking place during the year," Concacaf wrote.

VAR will also be made available in the upcoming W Championship, the men's and women's U-20 tournaments and Concacaf Champions League this year.

The initial decision to proceed without VAR was criticized by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter at the time, who cited the region's ability to feature the technology in the Nations League and Gold Cup competitions.

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"I think that's an error. I think it’s an error by Concacaf. I’m going to speak freely and say that," Berhalter said before the start to qualifying in September. "That’s part of the game, VAR, I think it was great that they implemented it in Nations League and Gold Cup, and it's disappointing that it's not part of qualifying. 

"That's where the modern game is going. We want to be right up there with the rest of the world, our region, in terms of the quality and the technology and we need to find a way to get that done. I'll say that's disappointing, but it's going to be no VAR for all the teams involved. So we’ll deal with it and we’ll get on with it."

Ironically, the absence of VAR may have helped the U.S. secure a point in its most recent qualifying match. Damion Lowe's late, would-be-go-ahead goal for Jamaica vs. the U.S. was disallowed for what referees spotted as a foul committed by Lowe on U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman during a corner kick. Replays showed that the call may have been harsh—although there is no guarantee that had VAR been in place, it would have overturned the call—and the match ended in a 1–1 draw.

Qualifying resumes next week, with the U.S. hosting El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio, as part of a triple-header on Jan. 27. Remaining matches in the window will take place Jan. 30 and Feb. 2.

As it stands, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico occupy the top three places in the table, while Panama sits in fourth. The top three teams at the conclusion of qualifying automatically go to the World Cup, while the fourth-place team goes to a one-match, intercontinental playoff against Oceania's representative in Qatar in June.

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