DOHA, Qatar — The five longest games in World Cup group stage history have all taken place over the first few days of the 2022 tournament. Stoppage time has occasionally stretched beyond 10 minutes per half, and almost all games have stretched beyond 100 minutes total. On Wednesday, refs even added seven second-half minutes to Spain's 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica.
The question is: Why?
The simple answer is that FIFA decided, somewhat arbitrarily, to make games longer.
“We recommended to our referees to be very accurate in calculating the time to be added at the end of each half,” Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of FIFA’s referees committee, said at a pre-tournament briefing. “The purpose is to offer more show to those who are watching the World Cup.”
Stoppage time, though, has always been a very inexact science, and the idea of being more “accurate” is a ridiculous premise. In the average game, the clock runs for 90 minutes plus the added time, but the ball is only in play for about 60 minutes.
The game stops for major incidents like goals, red cards and injuries, but also for more minor ones like free kicks, goal kicks and throw-ins. In fact, some savvy and overmatched teams have learned to shorten games by a few minutes simply by taking an extra 10 seconds on each of their throws, goal kicks and other set pieces.
Collina seemed to suggest that the new approach to stoppage time would fully account for those major incidents, plus VAR reviews.
“Whenever there will be an incident like an injury treatment, substitution slot, a penalty kick, red card, a celebration of a goal,” he said. “This time has to be considered and compensated at the end.”
But it seems to not consider the minor stoppages. If it did, there'd be 15 minutes, give or take a few, added at the end of each half. As things stand, games are averaging less than half that.
So FIFA has, essentially, decided that games will be roughly 67 minutes instead of around 60. Or something like that.
The instructions to referees — which Collina said were given in 2018 as well — could be seen as an attempt to combat time-wasting. But the more serious proposals to combat time-wasting are the ones that involve a stop-start 60-minute clock, rather than a 90-minute running one.
One argument against the stop-start clock is that games could extend far beyond soccer’s traditional two-hour viewing window. FIFA has never trialed those solutions, but has ruptured the two-hour window anyway.