Portugal's dream of the world title has burst - and two stars blame referee Tello. Veteran Pepe even sees Tello's performance as the result of a conspiracy in favor of Argentina.
Portugal's national soccer players have expressed severe criticism of referee Facundo Tello's performance after being eliminated in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. "They interrupted every move we made with fouls, but the referee hardly intervened," said central defender Pepe after the 1-0 draw at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha. "It's unacceptable that an Argentinian referee is refereeing our game. Especially after Messi complained. The referee wasn't the right man for the game."
What particularly bothered the veteran and European champion of 2016: "Eight minutes of stoppage time is far too little! They were just playing for time the whole time. And then only eight minutes?! We just stood around for the second half. We played, they did just leave the ball lying around." Then the veteran, who had captained his team instead of the superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, presented an implied allegation of fraud: "From what I saw today, they can now award the title to Argentina."
Lionel Messi, who made it through to the semi-finals the night before after a nerve-wracking game against the Netherlands (4-3 on penalties), grumbled after the game: "I was pretty upset," said Messi, "I don't want to talk about the referee, because then you get punished immediately, but people saw what happened." Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain) received 16 yellow cards and one yellow card on penalties for Dutchman Denzel Dumfries. The world association FIFA has to analyze this, "you can't summon a referee in such an important game if he doesn't meet the requirements".
Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes also criticized Facundo Tello's appointment: "I find it very strange that we have a referee whistling whose nation is still in the tournament," said the 28-year-old. It's very strange that no Portuguese referees have been nominated for the World Cup, "because we have Champions League referees. And this referee doesn't blow the whistle for the Champions League," said the Manchester United professional.
The Argentinian Tello did not give a yellow card until the 70th minute, then in the closing stages substitute Moroccan Walid Cheddira was sent off after two yellow cards within a few minutes. "The goalkeeper delays the game, a lot of small fouls, but the referee doesn't give a yellow card," said Pepe. "The ref didn't whistle well, especially in the second half."
However, Tello's performance did not really give cause for this Portuguese furore. Portugal coach Fernando Santos saw it that way too - and didn't want to blame the referee for the end. "Referee? I don't think so. He could have called for a foul in some situations, but in general I don't think so. We could have done more, we couldn't do that, we shouldn't blame the referee for that." Pepe himself missed a great chance to equalize with a header from close range a few minutes before the end.
(This article was first published on Saturday, December 10, 2022.)