This column would have been a lot more interesting for our ongoing Messi Vs Ronaldo debate had Iran scored the shot that hit the side netting at the end. However, in the end a late goal from Spain against Morocco consigned Portugal’s fate to runners up in the group stage just when it was looking like Ronaldo had an easy run to the final with the only significant other being Belgium/England.
The Portugal vs Iran game was mired in confusion and rage after the constant use of VAR. Alan Shearer on the BBC’s post-match summary called the technology ‘a farce’. However, one thing is clear with VAR for me. The technology has come under criticism following the referee’s decision to award Iran a penalty for handball amongst a melee of other stoppages including a red card review for Ronaldo that resulted in a yellow.
In terms of VAR I stand firmly behind it and given that the World Cup is its first major tournament it would be naïve to think that there would not have been growing pains this summer. However, we are still seeing the number of errors reduced by referees. With the case of the Iranian penalty it was the referee who reviewed the penalty and he who decided it was a penalty and as a result the fault therein lies with the referee, who was complained to FIFA about by Egypt earlier in the tournament. Therefore, any argument which formulates around the faults of VAR cannot take into account refereeing faults which are not the fault of the technology but the fault of poor officiating.
In the other group B match Spain fell behind twice to Morocco coming from 1-0 and 2-1 behind to level the score. Former Liverpool man Iago Aspas levelled in the final minute to secure top spot for Spain. After a tumultuous pre-tournament they have done incredibly well to come top of their group.
Earlier in the day we saw hosts Russia see their match fixing and doping, I mean incredible start come to an end abruptly against a much-changed Uruguay side that looked a lot better offensively than in previous games with goals from their talismanic striking duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Soon-to-be Arsenal player Lucas Torreira played extremely well at the #6.
In the other group A game Saudi Arabia overcame Egypt to secure their first points of this summer’s tournament and ensured Mo Salah’s Egypt ended the World Cup pointless, scoring only one goal. One highlight for the North African’s however, was that their 45-year-old goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary became the oldest player to ever appear at a World Cup tournament.