MOSCOW (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and 2010 winners Spain progressed to the World Cup knockout rounds on a Monday night of high drama dominated by VAR decisions, as Uruguay pipped Russia to top spot in their group.
Spain ended up topping Group B by virtue of goals scored after an injury-time strike by Iago Aspas – confirmed by the video assistant referee – rescued a 2-2 draw against Morocco in Kaliningrad and will take on the host nation in Moscow on Sunday.
Portugal, who finished level with Spain on five points, conceded a late penalty as Iran drew level at 1-1 and faced a heart-stopping moment as Mehdi Taremi put a shot inches wide – a goal that would have sent the European champions crashing out.
Ronaldo was at the heart of a series of VAR incidents in Saransk. First he had a penalty saved by Ali Beiranvand and was later saved by a review as Iran’s players called for him to be sent off following an incident with Morteza Pouraliganji.
Furious Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said Portugal captain Ronaldo, who was booked, should have been sent off for using an elbow and lashed out against VAR, saying it was “not going well”.
“I don’t want to talk too much, it’s about my country and a player. I know it’ll be a war against me,” said Queiroz, who coached his native Portugal at the 2010 finals in South Africa.”
“But the reality is you stopped the game for VAR, there is an elbow,” he added. “An elbow is a red card in the rules. In the rules it doesn’t say if it is (Lionel) Messi or Ronaldo.”
Portugal will face Uruguay in the last 16 in Sochi on Saturday.
Relieved Spain boss Fernando Hierro, who took over as coach on the eve of the World Cup, said he knew the group was going to be tough, acknowledging his side had to tighten up.
“The first conclusion I draw is that despite all these challenges we ended on top. I’m looking at the silver lining,” he said.
“Obviously we can improve. Five goals in three matches is not the way forward. The players are professional, they understand what the situation.”
There have now been 19 penalties taken at the 2018 World Cup – more than in any other edition of the competition.