So much for football being a game that lasts 90 minutes. Or the sight of a fourth official holding up a board showing two or three minutes of added time. At this tournament, the 100min-plus match is becoming the new normal.
England’s 6-2 victory against Iran on Monday lasted a record‑breaking 117min, with 14min 08sec of stoppage time in the first half and 13min 08sec in the second. Argentina’s shock 2-1 defeat against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday was not far behind, lasting 111min. Forget Fergie Time, welcome to Fifa Time.
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The reason, Fifa has confirmed, is down to a new directive to ensure all “unnatural lost time” is added at the end of each half. In Qatar it has asked officials to more accurately monitor when a game is stopped for goal celebrations, time wasting, video assistant referee decisions, substitutions, penalties and red cards – even if it means extending a match by many minutes.
Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of Fifa’s referees committee, said last week: “If we want to have more active time, we need to be ready to see this kind of additional time given.
“Think of a match where in a half there are three goals. The celebration normally takes one to one and a half minutes. With three goals, basically you lose five, six minutes. So what we really want to do is to accurately calculate the time to be added.”
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According to Opta, the average game time in the first six matches of this World Cup was 106min 12sec, compared with 97min 12sec in 2018. It said the four halves with the most stoppage time in a World Cup match since records began in 1966 were all on Monday, with time added on in the second halves of USA v Wales and Senegal v Netherlands both being more than 10min. That was before the added time in Argentina’s second half against Saudi Arabia, which came to 14min.
Some of that was down to extended injury breaks: the Iran goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand, sustained concussion after a clash of heads against England and the Saudi defender Yasser al-Shahrani was knocked out by a flying knee from his own keeper, Mohammed al-Owais, in injury time.
Collina made Fifa’s position clear, saying: “If we want to protect the image of the game we must calculate time and add it on at the end of each half. We do not want matches where the ball is only in play for 43, 44 or 45 minutes. We must make sure the time is fair for both teams.”
Ifab, football’s law-making body, rejected a proposal for games to be reduced to 60min of “effective playing time” with the clock stopped when the ball goes out of play. Last season the ball was in play on average in the Premier League for just over 55min but in some leagues it can drop as low as 45min.