Swinging in the Rain

A long injury time, six goals and many, many controversial decisions. Maybe it’s not what we wanted, but the game played yesterday at the Lemon Gas Stadium Hiratsuka between Shonan Bellmare and Kashiwa Reysol will become part of J. League history, whether fans like or not.

We lost the count, but VAR was used for several episodes and, in the end, we got a messier game than we would have without its use. Let us be clear: we’re in favor of VAR, it’s a tool that should improve the decisions of referees. Unfortunately, for Mr. Hiroki Kasahara and his team, it didn’t happen.

More than 100 minutes of this game showed the world why we love Japanese football, but also what has to be improved. Urgently.

Shonan v. VAR

If there’s a team suffering first from the lack of VAR and now from the abundance of it, it’s Shonan Bellmare. If you remember, in May 2019, they suffered from one of the biggest mistakes in J. League’s officiating history, when Daiki Sugioka’s goal was unseen by the referee. Somehow, Shonan came back from 2-0 to win that match.

But it’s not like the VAR has improved the situation. Just take the home match from this year against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, where a perfectly fine winner by Takuya Okamoto was called offside, when in fact the winger looked perfectly fine to score. And I’t snot the only episode we could mention, but surely it’s a good indication of how VAR has been tough on Bellmare.

This time, everything seemed fine. Shonan were leading and they doubled their advantage through Kazuki Oiwa, but he was caught offside. In the second half, the ball was unfairly touched by Riuler’s arm on a shot by Segawa, which triggered the penalty kick scored by Pedro Raul.

The score line was 1-1, but it wasn’t meant to stay that way.

The missing pieces

First episode? The goal disallowed to Shonan in the 56th minute: on a corner kick, a shot hits Tarik Elyounoussi, which then controlled the ball and put it in for the advantage. Unfortunately, it was called off, but the replay doesn’t really grant us an explanation, since the striker’s arm looks pretty attached to his body.

It’s not like he can cut his arm, so… first doubts.

Then, to prove it’s not JUST a Shonan thing, there’s another PK missing. If Elyounoussi’s goal had to be called off, then we don’t understand why this hand by Hirokazu Ishihara hasn’t got Reysol a clear penalty. Actually, the arm by Ishihara looks wider than Elyounoussis’s.

But nothing: VAR reviewed it and the referee decided it wasn’t meant to be. Only to change logics some minutes later.

After Wellington scored the 2-1, Shonan theoretically closed the game: ball through to Shuto Machino, who controlled the ball with his – let’s say – shoulder and then went through Sasaki for his personal brace. Unfortunately, the goal was called off, again, but this time it was probably even worst than the first one.

In the replay seen through the VAR, it’s hard to tell that Machino is managing the ball with his hands. It doesn’t look like it. Nevertheless, another goal called off and Shonan have basically lost the game in that moment. From a possible 4-1 advantage, they’re gonna lose that match in a few minutes.

Love and hate

In fact, in full injury time, a long ball from Kashiwa found the head of Pedro Raul – fundamental in this game – to assist Yuta Kamiya, whose slide brought him to the touchline, just in time to fool Tani and serve an open assist to Ominami, who equalized.

Did you think it was over? Wrong! In the 98th minute, another long ball was headed towards Cristiano, who entered the penalty box and then tried a half-cross-half-shot towards Shonan’s goal. Tani didn’t cover the first post and the ball went in. Crazy ending for Reysol, who even got the fourth goal at minute 102 (!), with Pedro Raul completing his wonderful afternoon with a brace.

In the end, the score line looks really unfair. Sure, Kashiwa fought to get this result, but the right decisions would have never given them the opportunity to come back from their disadvantage. Championships and seasons are decided on details, especially when you’re fighting in the relegation race.

That’s why J. League – right now the best championship in Asia, hands down – has to find a solution. VAR isn’t enough, you need a better judgement of certain episodes. Otherwise, you can have all the cameras you want, but it won’t enough. Meanwhile, though, this crazy afternoon under the rain of Kanagawa has confirmed that J. League is mental and, probably, that’s why we love it.

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