The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is being rewritten in soccer history.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal against Ghana made him the first male player to score a goal at five World Cups. Lionel Messi has his 1,000. Played the game and scored his first goal in the knock-out phase. Oliver Giroud scored his 52nd goal for France, a record for the team.
But when England pulverized Iran 6:2, the game set a rather obscure FIFA record: It was the longest game in the group stage of the World Cup.
When the final whistle rang out, both sides had played for 117 minutes. The marathon game had lasted an additional 27 minutes in both halves, due to a series of interruptions added as part of FIFA’s relatively recent time control efforts.
During the group stage, referees added a total of 563 minutes of playing time — more than nine hours. Only one of the eight opening games of the tournament ended in under 100 minutes.
In the 1-1 draw between Wales and the USA, 14 minutes and 34 seconds were added to the clock, while 12 minutes and 49 seconds were set for the Netherlands versus Senegal match. The opening match between Qatar and Ecuador included a break of 10 minutes and 18 seconds.
Why were there so many interruptions at the 2022 World Cup?
Football matches should last 90 minutes of regular playing time, unless it is a knock-out game. The fourth FIFA officials routinely add time at the end of each half.
At the 2018 World Cup, FIFA began monitoring downtime intensively to account for the time spent on injuries, celebrations, evaluations and substitutions with video assistant referees (VAR).
Ahead of this year’s World Cup, Pierluigi Collina, Chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee and himself a former referee, warned fans not to prepare for a series of games that exceed 100 minutes.
“It’s nothing new,” Collina told reporters in November. “In Russia, it became quite normal for the fourth official to show the blackboard for seven, eight, nine minutes.”
FIFA’s goal is to maximize effective playing time.
“Whenever there is an incident such as treatment, substitution, penalty, red card or goal celebration — I want to underline that because it’s a moment of joy for one team, it might not be for the other team — but it can take a minute or a half,” he said.
FIFA has been complaining for a long time about long goal ceremonies and unnecessary show boating, which can sometimes last a minute or more.
“Imagine two or three goals being scored in a half and it’s easy to lose five or six minutes and that team needs to be compensated at the end,” said Collina.
Other soccer experts have argued that a break should be welcomed by fans who want to get the most for their money after spending a lot of money playing in a stadium.
“I think it’s good for the game because fans are as important as anyone else,” Mark Halsey, retired FIFA and English Premier League referee, told CNN Breaking News. “It costs a lot of money to watch soccer. We want to watch the ball play longer. That is what we want. We’ve got more than 90 minutes now.”
VAR has been criticized worldwide since its World Cup debut in Russia. It tracks all player limbs on the pitch and uses semi-automatic technology using cameras, sensors, and video playback to make offside calls and score goals.
Qatar in particular, many fans have complained that technology has limited gameplay and has sometimes extended the game interruption by several minutes.
The interruptions have caused disagreements across the soccer world, and some players expressed displeasure over the extra time due to the increased risk of injury.
During this World Cup, Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand suffered a severe concussion against England. Saudi Arabian defender Yasser Alshahrani was also injured when he was knocked down by his own goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais against Argentina.
The international players’ union Fifpro said it was monitoring the situation.
“If the effective playing time is increased by 10 to 15 percent, the time in physical competition for players is significantly extended,” said Fifpro Secretary General Jonas Bär-Hoffmann. “Above all, it underlines how important workload protection is for players. It needs to be set up now.”
However, some players seem to be able to shine in the longer games.
“I’m excited about the time officials are adding at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” former England and Liverpool midfielder Jamie Carragher said on Twitter. “Too much time is wasted in soccer!
Enjoy the time that officials are adding to #QatarWorldCup2022, too much time is wasted in soccer!
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) November 21, 2022
Domestic soccer leagues are not fully sold under the new FIFA rules. The Premier League said it would not implement the strict new rules for time interruptions after the World Cup.
Some fans have even attributed entire game results to postseason.
When Iran scored two goals in injury time, leading to a 2-0 win over Wales, some were quick to blame the Welsh defeat on the new initiative to maximise time.
“Interesting observation,” tweeted soccer YouTuber Mark Goldbridge on November 25. “Wales has lost as a result of this FIFA policy to give games an unprecedented amount of interruption.”
South American football correspondent Tom Vickery compared the interruptions to “adding extra rounds at the end of a boxing match.”
“I’m not in favor of these huge downtime,” Vickery wrote on Twitter. “To drag the players into the ground. 4 would have been okay. 9? Not for me.”
Extra time may have decided a few games, but it has also allowed teams to make history in other ways.
Cameroon’s winning goal in the second half against Brazil came in injury time. The goal wasn’t enough to secure Cameroon a place in the round of 16, but Vincent Aboubakar, made possible by extra time, made Cameroon the first African nation to beat five-time world champion Brazil.
A number of alternatives to the lockdown period have also been proposed over the years to address soccer’s wasting time. In 2017, Marco van Basten, the then FIFA Technical Director, proposed a 60-minute stop/start music box, similar to basketball. However, the idea was never implemented.
Others have suggested that the introduction of an independent timepiece, similar to Rugby, could be another alternative to long downtime.
“When you stop the clock, the timer stops the clock every time the ball runs out or every time the ball goes — every time there is a substitute, every time there is a goal party — then that timer starts the clock and starts it again when the ball is back in play,” Halsey told CNN Breaking News English.
Halsey described goalkeepers as the worst repeat offenders when it comes to time theft.
“I was a goalkeeper, so you can see how goalkeepers are taking their time,” he said. “What they do now, they tend to catch the ball, the ball gets into them and then they fall to the ground with no one around them, lie on the ground, look around a bit,… then they get up and start maybe putting the ball back in play. I think you watch longer than 10 to 15 seconds when the goalkeeper has a ball in his hand.”
Halsey suggested a time limit of 10 seconds and, if the goalkeepers exceeded that limit, punished them with an indirect free kick and a yellow card.
“I think referees need to be able to handle these situations better,” he said.