A board displays additional time during the match between England and Iran
Doha (AFP) - Do not adjust your television sets: England and Iran really did play nearly half an hour of injury time in their World Cup game.
And that was not the only match in Qatar to drag on well beyond the alloted 90 minutes.
It is early days at this World Cup, but already a very noticeable trend has emerged: games are going on much, much longer than normal.
So what is going on? It is no accident.
Prior to the World Cup kicking off on Sunday, Pierluigi Collina, chairman of FIFA’s referees committee, said fourth officials would be keeping a firm eye on time lost during games.
That could be due to injuries, substitutions, red or yellow cards, video assistant referee interventions and also some old-fashioned time-wasting from teams trying to hang on to a lead.
“In Russia (World Cup 2018), we tried to be more accurate in compensating for time lost during games and that’s why you saw six, seven or even eight minutes added on,” he told reporters at a pre-tournament briefing.
“Think about it: if you have three goals in a half, you’ll probably lose four or five minutes in total to celebrations and the restart.”
- ‘A long time to focus’ -
For players and coaches already worried about the sheer amount of football squeezed into an already congested season, this can only be bad news.
England coach Gareth Southgate was delighted with many aspects of his side’s 6-2 hammering of Iran on Monday, but noted the amount of stoppage time.
Largely because of a nasty facial injury to Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, the first half dragged on for nearly an hour instead of 45 minutes.
Similarly, Mehdi Taremi’s consolation penalty, nearly the last kick of the game, came in the 13th minute of stoppage time.
“We had, I think, 24 minutes of added time across the game,” Southgate told the BBC, suggesting his players were drained and more susceptible to conceding a goal as the game ebbed deep into added time.
“So it’s a long time to focus, but we just lost concentration and when we play at a slower tempo, we’re nowhere near as effective.”
According to statistics experts Opta, those elongated halves in the England-Iran game, plus added time in the second half of the United States versus Wales (10 mins 34 secs) and second half of Senegal against the Netherlands (10:03), were the most stoppage time in the World Cup on record, going back to 1966.
All happened on Monday, the second day of the Qatar tournament, suggesting this is just the start.
Marc Wilmots, the former Belgium coach, said it was harmful to the players.
“What amazes me are the cramps, the injury problems and the players are already exhausted,” he told broadcaster RTBF.
The coaches – or least those winning the match in question – also may not like it, but observers sick of players time-wasting are applauding FIFA’s hardline stance.
“Enjoying the amount of time that is being added on by the officials at the Qatar World Cup 2022, there is too much time wasting in football!” former England defender Jamie Carragher tweeted.
Former Chelsea and Tottenham defender Jason Cundy, who is now a broadcaster, told his radio show that he would not be happy if it was England hanging on for victory at the end.
But he added: “Does it give the viewer, as a neutral, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, something could change, there’s 10 minutes of injury time, 10 minutes!’
“I think what it’s doing is adding a little bit more jeopardy to the game.”