We are still in the early stages of the 2022 World Cup but already there has emerged a theme that has characterised several of the games to have taken place in Qatar thus far.
All four of the matches to take place at the tournament on Sunday and Monday saw prolonged periods of injury time added to the ends of both halves, to the point where each of those games lasted more than 100 minutes in total, well over the regulation 90.
Fans were quick to notice the unusual amount of injury time being allocated by officials, especially during England's first Group B game against Iran which saw a gigantic total of 27 minutes of additional time tacked on across both halves.
Clues were evident that something curious was afoot in the first match of the 2022 World Cup as hosts Qatar took on Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium. The opening game saw roughly five extra minutes added at the end of both halves -- mainly due to an early VAR check that disallowed a goal in the first half and a few minor stoppages in the second.
The referees deciding injury time. pic.twitter.com/ZaKOzyNhgQ— Jonny Sharples (@JonnyGabriel) November 21, 2022
England 6-2 Iran (117:16)
Things then escalated in the second game of the tournament after a nasty injury to Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saw the player undergo an extended concussion test on the pitch before being substituted, which led to 14:08 of stoppage time being added in the first half.
Just to cap it off, a further (though thankfully less serious) head injury sustained by Harry Maguire after the interval allied with a vast raft of substitutions saw another 13:08 of stoppage time added to the end of the second half.
The long delay also allowed Mehdi Taremi to score a brace of late consolation goals for Iran, the second of which (timed at 102:30) was the latest non-extra time goal scored at a World Cup since 1996. The final whistle was then sounded immediately afterwards, bringing to an overdue end the longest World Cup game since 1966 (as far back reliable records are kept) that didn't go to extra time.
Senegal 0-2 Netherlands (102:49)
After a fairly dreary first half, the second half of Netherlands' opener against Senegal dragged on for 10:03 than regulation time, just long enough for the Dutch to earn victory with a couple of late goals.
While Cody Gakpo's 84th-minute opener came during regulation time, Davy Klaasen's ridiculously late second (98:17) is now second only to Taremi's penalty against England in the latest non-extra time World Cup goal stakes.
I think we can now be sure that FIFA's plan to tackle time-wasting and make sure the ball is in play for longer is just to add BLOODY LOADS OF INJURY TIME.— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) November 21, 2022
United States 1-1 Wales (104:34)
While the first half saw a mere four minutes added in stoppage time, a whopping nine additional minutes were signalled by officials at the end of a gruelling second half. Even so, the actual amount played was 10:34, rendering the period the third longest half of football at the 2022 World Cup so far.
Gareth Bale was already visibly flagging by the time he smashed home Wales' equaliser from the penalty spot in the 82nd minute but had to play on for almost another 20 minutes from that point until the whistle finally went.
Unsurprisingly, the LAFC star cut an exasperated figure after the final whistle after admitted that he and his compatriots had started to feel "a little bit tired" towards the end of the protracted encounter.
"I can't believe it was nine minutes added on, I don't know where that came from," Bale told ITV postmatch. "But we have to dig deep for our country, we always do and we keep going."
you: they should increase ball-in-play time, we're being robbed— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) November 21, 2022
FIFA: check this cool injury time hack out!
you: this is wrong, the number 100 doesn't belong in our game
So the first four games in Qatar have shared almost 65 minutes of added time between them, due to a litany of various stoppages.
Of course, the longest delays seen during England's win over Iran were mainly a consequence of concussions and suspected concussions sustained by Beiranvand and Maguire. However, overall the longer periods of additional time being signalled by officials at the 2022 World Cup is part of concerted effort by FIFA to minimise time-wasting during games.
The intention is to monitor the amount of time any given match is stopped for more accurately, with that same "wasted" time then being added back onto the clock at the end of each half.
Speaking to the ESPN's The Gab and Juls Show, Pierluigi Collina, former World Cup referee and current chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, clarified both the rationale and the in-game mechanics of the new anti-time-wasting regulations -- regulations that were first formulated for the 2018 finals in Russia.
"When we speak about wasted time in a match, we should make a difference between the time wasted because of the game, and the time wasted deliberately by players. The largest part is the time wasted because of the match," Collina said.
"What we already did in Russia, you may remember, is to more accurately calculate the time compensated at the end of each half. We told everybody, don't be surprised as you will see the fourth official raising the electronic board with a big number on it: six, seven, eight minutes."
The 62-year-old Italian explained that on average many minutes are "lost" simply in the act of players undergoing even routine actions such as taking throw-ins and goal kicks. So, in a bid to help compensate for lost time, the requisite "active time" will be added at the end of each half.
"Think of a match where in a half there are three goals scored," Collina added. "The celebration normally takes a one, one-and-a-half minutes. So with three goals to scored, basically you lose five, six minutes.
"So what we what we really want to do is to accurately calculate the time to be added at the end of each half."
He also confirmed that any further time wicked away during VAR checks would be calculated by the fourth official on duty and communicated to the referee during the match.
"The time lost for VAR is calculated by the video assistant referee in a very sharp, precise way. It will be the fourth official who usually proposes the amount of time to be added and the referee decides."
So while those extra-long matches early in the group stage may have caught the watching world by surprise, they are something we may all have to start getting used to.