MOSCOW, RUSSIA – Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and 2010 winners Spain progressed to the World Cup knockout rounds on a night of high drama dominated by video assistant referee (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 VAR – rescued a 2-2 draw against Morocco on Monday night, June 25, in Kaliningrad and will take on the host nation in Moscow on Sunday.
#ESP #ESP #ESP Congratulations, @SeFutbol! #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/6vUQwSKw89 — FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 25, 2018
Portugal, who finished level with Spain on 5 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.
#POR #POR #POR Congratulations, @selecaoportugal! #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/ISSl0aRotc — FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 25, 2018
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. 5 goals in 3 matches is not the way forward. The players are professional, they understand what the situation."
Portugal's Ricardo Quaresma curled in a trademark trivela goal on the stroke of half-time at the Mordovia Arena, but Karim Ansarifard's late penalty dropped Portugal to second in Group B behind neighbors Spain.
Ronaldo won a second-half spot-kick after a video review but saw his effort saved, with the Real Madrid star unable to add to his 4-goal tally at the tournament.
Portugal will face Uruguay in Sochi on July 30 for a place in the quarterfinals after ending Iran's hopes of reaching the knockout phase for the first time.
"I think we did very well, we have achieved our goal and now we have to recover and think about the next match," said Quaresma.
"We know the difficulties we'll face, they're a big team with very good players."
Quaresma fired Portugal ahead just before the interval when he exchanged passes with Adrien Silva before bending home in style from the edge of the area with the outside of his right foot.
Ronaldo had the chance to double the lead 5 minutes into the second half after he was upended by Ezatolahi, with a spot-kick awarded following consultation with the VAR.
But the Portugal captain was denied by Beiranvand who dived to his left to smother Ronaldo's attempt.
Spain survived a real scare from a spirited Morocco side who had been leading 2-1 when the 90th minute began.
Aspas' clever flick from a wide free kick was initially adjudged by the assistant referee to have been offside.
But after intervention from VAR it was given as a goal, much to the consternation of the Moroccan players and substitutes, some of whom stormed the pitch in protest.
Morocco coach Herve Renard said before the game his team, the first to be eliminated this tournament, had been victim to "total injustice" in their opening 1-0 losses.
The North Africans, who had yet to score a point or even a goal before Monday, started brightly, compact without the ball and breaking at speed.
Morocco took the lead on 14 minutes when Boutaib took advantage of a horrible mix-up between Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta to race through and slide the ball calmly through David De Gea's legs. – Rappler.com