The referees for the World Cup quarter-finals have come under intense criticism following four controversial matches.
It was an eventful round of games, with two of them being settled on penalties. First, Croatia pulled off a shock by defeating favourites Brazil on Friday. A few hours later, Argentina eliminated Netherlands on a shoot-out after a tense 120 minutes.
The following day, Morocco became the first African side to reach the semi-finals, knocking out Portugal 1-0. They were joined by France, who beat England in a tight game.
However, much of the post-match fallout hasn’t centred around the teams, but the referees. In all four games, the officials have come under fire for their performances.
Croatia vs Brazil
Of the four matches, this was the one with the least refereeing controversy. Still, this wasn’t enough to stop Michael Oliver from becoming public enemy number one in Brazil.
Oliver, who was once famously told he has ‘a trash can where his heart should be’ by Gianluigi Buffon, allowed quite a lot of things to slide.
A few Croatian players were arguably fortunate to escape without bookings, while Antony was let off the hook for a blatant dive late on in the game.
The biggest call of the match came in the second half of normal time, when the ball struck Josip Juranovic’s arm inside the box. Oliver opted not to award a penalty, and VAR didn’t intervene.
Netherlands vs Argentina
Antonio Mateu Lahoz is one of football’s most famous referees. Over the years, he has earned a reputation as a ‘celebrity ref’ – an official who likes to be the centre of attention.
And in this fixture, he managed to steal the show – an impressive achievement, given that he was sharing the pitch with Lionel Messi.
It was a heated occasion, with temperatures rising on and off the pitch. In this type of game, you need a referee who can keep things under control, which Lahoz completely failed in doing.
In total, 18 (yes, EIGHTEEN) yellow cards were shown – a World Cup record. Only 11 of these happened in regular play. Meanwhile, Denzel Dumfries was shown two yellow cards during the penalty shoot-out. Noa Lang was also booked, Wout Weghorst and Steven Bergwijn were cautioned while off the pitch, and Argentinian staff Lionel Scaloni and Walter Samuel also picked up yellow cards.
Messi came out after the game and claimed Lahoz was not up to the task. Perhaps the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is the wrong man to be speaking, having escaped without a booking for a blatant handball in the second half; he would later pick up a yellow card in injury time.
But he was far from the only critic of the Spaniard. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez labelled him ‘useless’, former striker Sergio Aguero Tweeted that he wanted attention, while BBC’s Gary Lineker compared him to Premier League referee Mike Dean (for those not familiar with Dean, that’s not a compliment).
The most controversial incident came in the 89th minute when Leandro Paredes cynically brought down Nathan Ake and then proceeded to blast the ball as hard as he could towards the Dutch bench. Much to the confusion of every spectator, the midfielder was not sent off for this.
Morocco vs Portugal
In a tense game, Morocco edged out Portugal to reach the final four, thus ending Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup dreams forever (probably). Often so outspoken, the 800-goal forward wasn’t the one in the headlines after the match.
Instead, it was teammates Bruno Fernandes and Pepe. Both were critical of the decision to allow an almost all-Argentinian officiating team to take charge of the match and alleged that the competition could be fixed in La Albiceleste’s favour.
“I don’t know if they’re going to give the cup to Argentina – I don’t care, I’m going to say what I think and f**k them,” said Fernandes, as quoted by The Express.
“It’s very strange that a referee from a team that whistles us it’s still in the World Cup. They’ve clearly tilted the field against us.”
Talking to Relevo, via The Express, Pepe shared similar thoughts.
“It’s inadmissible that an Argentine referee was in charge today after what happened yesterday, with Messi complaining,” he said. “After what I saw today, they can give the title to Argentina now.”
During the game, Fernando Santos’ men had several penalty shouts waved away. Fernandes and Pepe themselves both had one each, and there was a late handball shout against Jawad El Yamiq.
However, none of these were particularly convincing. And when you consider that Moroccan forward Walid Cheddira was shown a harsh second yellow card in extra time, I think we can put the accusations of corruption to bed.
England vs France
After their elimination at the hands of France, England’s players and fans weren’t best pleased with the referee. Despite being awarded two penalties, the Three Lions felt hard-done-by by a couple of big decisions.
The first instance was a blatant foul on Bukayo Saka in the lead up to Aurelien Tchouameni’s opening goal.
It’s understandable why VAR didn’t rule the goal out – a fair bit of time passed between the two incidents, and England had ample time to get back into shape. But how the linesman missed it while being hardly five metres away is an absolute mystery.
A few minutes later, Harry Kane was brought down by Dayot Upamecano. No foul was given at first, but replays showed a clear trip. The only question was whether it was inside the box or just outside, but VAR again remained unmoved.
Jude Bellingham refused to blame the referee for the defeat, but described his performance as ‘not great’. Teammate Harry Maguire was less generous to the official, delivering a far more scathing verdict.
“Really poor, from minute one,” he said. “Five, six fouls in the first 15 minutes, not one yellow card. For me, it’s a foul for the first goal on Bukayo [Saka].
“I can’t really explain how bad his performance really was. I don’t want to go into it too much because I’ll end up getting fined.
“But the big decisions were wrong – he never gave us anything. Throughout the game he was really poor.”
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