VAR ‘disgrace’ as Latvia star escapes red card vs Wales despite ‘nasty’ incident

Wales were on the wrong end of a VAR howler during their 2-0 Euro 2024 qualifying win over Latvia on Monday night. Janis Ikaunieks somehow stayed on the pitch despite lashing out at visitors midfielder Jordan James with a wild uncontrolled tackle.

Wales headed into the match desperate for three points. They lost their previous two qualifiers in June against Armenia and Turkey to put direct progress to next summer’s tournament in doubt.

Rob Page’s side had a man sent off in both of those matches. But the Wales boss will be right to feel aggrieved that they weren’t playing against 10 men for the final half an hour or so on Monday.

Aaron Ramsey’s first-half penalty had put Wales into the lead. Latvia, who are yet to win a point in Group D, were not making it easy for the Welsh though.

But as they attempted to get back into the game, VAR was called into action. Ikaunieks was given a yellow card by Slovakian referee Michael Ocenas for a foul on Birmingham star James.

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However, replays showed that Ikaunieks caught James much higher than initially thought. He appeared to lash out with his left foot and catch James on the left knee.

VAR looked at the incident and Ocenas was recommended to review it on the pitchside monitor. It has become almost customary in the Premier League that referees side with VAR when going to the monitor.

But after seeing the tackle in slow motion and normal speed, Ocenas decided to stick with his original decision. A free kick was given and Latvia kept all 11 men on the pitch as they pushed for a late equaliser.

Former Wales striker Ian Walsh was aghast that Ikaunieks was not given his marching orders. He said on BBC Radio Wales: “He’s lost possession and he’s just lashed out. That is a nasty, nasty challenge.

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“It’s up towards the left knee and he could have put him out for the season with that. That is an absolute joke.

“You talk about standards, and all the intricate rules in football now that you can and you can’t do. Something as obvious as that and you’re not off the pitch. That is a disgrace.”

Nathan Blake also could not believe that VAR’s recommendation didn’t see an upgrade from the initial yellow card. The ex-Wales international said: “I can’t believe it. That is a disgraceful decision.”

It almost proved costly when Latvia came close to drawing level in the early stages. However, David Brooks finally sealed the win for Wales deep into stoppage time.

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