Spain and Portugal advance to the last 16 at the World Cup after a wild finish in Group B that involved a number of uses of VAR.
Simultaneous World Cup group finales were influenced heavily by a pair of simultaneous uses of Video Assistant Referee.
VAR, which is being implemented at the World Cup for the first time, has largely been praised over the last couple of weeks in Russia, but its success level was put to the test in a big way in a pair of key spots.
With Spain playing against Morocco and Iran facing Portugal and both of the group's spots in the round of 16 up for grabs, the matches went down to the wire. Morocco led Spain 2-1 in stoppage time, when Spain, taking a corner kick–which appeared to be conducted on the wrong end of the field–wound up scoring on a wonderful back-heel goal from Iago Aspas.
The goal was initially ruled offside, but after consultation with video review, Aspas was ruled to have been onside, and the goal was given to make it 2-2.
The call, it can be assumed, was not welcome by Morocco's players, who got into a scuffle with Spain players after the fact, yet the goal stood, which secured the point for Spain.
At the very same time in the other match, Iran tied its game against Portugal on another VAR-influenced call. Cedric Soares was whistled for a handball after a lengthy review process. Iran drew even with Portugal 1–1 on Karim Ansarifard's 93rd-minute penalty kick.
THE worst decision I have EVER seen in football. Starting to think Fifa have brought in VAR so they can control matches, because this is too much. VAR have deemed this a ‘deliberate’ handball and an obvious mistake, and the ref agreed!! 😂 Something is very wrong here. #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/36XbFAWIVl— Jake Heasman (@jakeheasman) June 25, 2018
The simultaneous sequences bumped Portugal into second place in the group and Spain into first, thanks to the goals-scored tiebreaker, flipping the group on its head and setting up Spain-Russia, Portugal-Uruguay last-16 matchups. And had Mehdi Taremi's shot following the penalty kick gone in instead of hitting the side netting, Iran would have won the group, dumping Portugal out and Spain into second in the process.
Spain and Portugal were largely expected to finish in this order in this group, but not like this. It's a set of games–and sequences–that won't be soon forgotten.