Though it was not used in pool games, VAR technology looks likely to be used for the knockout stages of the Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament.
The clue lies in the naming of match officials for New Zealand’s semi-final against Tahiti for which two Qatar officials are included as video assistant referee and assistant video assistant referee.
Before the tournament began, there was speculation that VAR would be used at an Oceania tournament for the first time, as the Doha stadia had used the technology for the FIFA Arab Cup tournament this year.
Regardless of the technology, All Whites head coach Danny Hay will want to ensure the result does not come down to a single decision made from a television screen.
The All Whites have won three from three at the eight-nation tournament.
Their opponents, Tahiti, go into the semi-finals without a win or even a draw from their pool games. Their progress has come courtesy of positive COVID tests that forced the withdrawal of group rivals Vanuatu and the Cook Islands.
They lost their only match so far, to Solomon Islands who meet Papua New Guinea in Monday morning’s first semi-final (3am NZT).
The Tahitians — 1,043 days since they last won a game
Ponder a date — July 18, 2019.
That was the last time Tahiti won an international game. They hammered American Samoa 8-1 before a crowd of 140 at the Sepp Blatter Stadium, Apia, at the 2019 Pacific Games.
American Samoa were ranked 192nd in the FIFA men’s world rankings at the time — the highest they had been for a while — and it was a meaningless group game because Tahiti had failed to make the knockout stages.
Since then, the Tahitians have lost a friendly to French fifth division side UA Cognac, losing 4-3 a month ago.
Two weeks ago, they drew 0-0 with the Occitania national team — a side that claims international status but is not recognised by FIFA or UEFA.
On Monday, 1,043 days after Tahiti’s last win, Tahiti (ranked 159th in the world) will try to upset the All Whites (111th).
So, what could go wrong?
Coach Hay will have minimal data on Tahiti’s lead-up games because, simply, the information probably doesn’t exist.
He will have watched the replay of Tahiti’s 3-1 loss to the Solomon Islands in which they had 12 attempts on goal (four on target) despite having only 45% of the game’s possession.
Other factors will include ground conditions and match officials.
New Zealand have played their three games at the Qatar SC Stadium but the semi-final switches to the Grand Hamad Stadium.
The grass surface should be fine — certainly better than previous All Whites have had to endure during Oceania tournaments.
Main photo: Grand Hamad Stadium under lights.
The refereeing at this tournament has passed without criticism — always a good sign — and OFC have named a team of five match officials from Qatar, with the exception of an assistant referee from Tonga (whose national team are not at the tournament).
Neutrality is helpful.
Nothing is guaranteed in a World Cup … ask the Italians
The New Zealand-Tahiti semi-final kicks off at 6.30am (NZT), half an hour later than its last two group games.
This is to accommodate the risk of the other semi-final needing a shootout decider if Solomon Islands and PNG are level after 90 minutes.
Finally, Hay might be tempted to rotate his talented squad to save something for an anticipated final.
Tahiti might appear to be under-prepared and nowhere near New Zealand’s standard.
But that’s probably how the Italians (ranked 6th in the world) viewed North Macedonia before Friday’s 1-0 result eliminated the Gil Azurri from this year’s World Cup.
New Zealand v Tahiti
Monday March 28, 2022
Kick-off: 6.30am (NZT)
Semi-final, Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament
Grand Hamad Stadium, Doha
Watch: Live on Sky Sports 7.