Expect referees to keep awarding lots of penalties at major soccer tournaments in the VAR era.
The spike in spot kicks at the European Championship won approval Friday from UEFA's head of refereeing in a mid-tournament review of match officials.
The record-setting numbers at Euro 2020 are trending the same way as the 2018 World Cup, where video assistant referees were first used at soccer’s biggest event.
“One of the key points for this increase of penalties, of course, is related also to the implementation of VAR,” UEFA chief refereeing officer Robert Rosetti said in an online briefing.
The 14 penalties awarded so far at Euro 2020 in 36 games compares to only 13 given in the group stage at the past three tournaments combined, a total of 84 games.
The running total at Euro 2020 includes five penalties that were not initially whistled by the referee. The decisions were made after checks with the help of video monitoring at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
It was a similar story at the last World Cup, where FIFA launched VAR. The 24 penalties given in the group stage in Russia almost doubled the 13 at the entire tournament in Brazil four years earlier.
The big change is not in how the game is being is played but because of increased accuracy using video replays to spot fouls that once escaped match officials, Rosetti said.
“Before the VAR project there were many, many fouls in the penalty area missed by the referees,” Rosetti said. “Now it is impossible to miss these fouls.”
A montage of “step on foot” fouls was included in the Italian official's video clips of incidents.
The Netherlands and Spain both were eventually given penalties after video review of, respectively, Austria defender David Alaba and Poland midfielder Jakub Moder treading on an opponent’s boot.
“With VAR it’s very, very easy to assess,” said Rosetti, whose refereeing career pre-video review peaked with handling the Euro 2008 final.
Rosetti would even have liked to have seen one more penalty awarded. He said Italy should have been awarded a penalty for handball against Turkey in the opening game.
However, he defended the decision not to award France a late spot kick for a tackle from behind on Kingsley Coman in a 2-2 draw with Portugal. It would have been the fourth penalty of the game after Cristiano Ronaldo converted two and Karim Benzema one.
“We don’t like soft penalties. We want clear penalties,” Rosetti said when pressed twice on the incident. “The penalty is something important in football ... a serious moment in football.”
A further statistical curiosity is the spike in penalties despite a big drop in the number of fouls overall.
Rosetti said there were 806 fouls called so far, compared to 911 at Euro 2016 in the same 36-game group format.
The average number of 22.4 fouls per game compares favorably to the 37.7 average at Euro 2004.
“For sure," Rosetti said, "a better attitude of the players in the field of play.”