‘I bet Argentina will be champions’: Pepe blasts referee choice after Portugal exit

The veteran Portugal defender Pepe has questioned the appointment of an Argentinian referee to their shock quarter-final defeat by Morocco and claimed Fifa officials “can now give the title to Argentina”.

Pepe suggested Lionel Messi’s vocal criticism of the Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after Argentina’s penalty shootout victory over the Netherlands on Friday should have prevented an Argentinian, Facundo Tello, from taking charge of Portugal’s 1-0 defeat to Morocco. Messi and the Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez said Mateu Lahoz should be dropped for the remainder of the tournament.

“It’s unacceptable for an Argentine referee to referee our game,” Pepe said. “After what happened yesterday, with Messi talking, all of Argentina was talking and the referee comes here to blow the whistle. I’m not saying that he comes here conditioned … but what did we play the second half? We weren’t allowed to play the second half.”

Pepe questioned the decision to play only eight minutes of stoppage time and said: “I can bet that Argentina will be champions.”

The 39-year-old, who squandered a chance to cancel out Youssef En-Nesyri’s winner deep into second-half stoppage time, was not the only Portugal player left furious. Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes is reported to have said: “It’s very weird that a ref officiates us from a country still left in the competition … Ours referee the Champions League, so they have the quality and level to be here. They don’t referee the Champions League, they are not used to this type of games, they don’t have the pace for this. They have clearly tilted the field against us. In the first half there is a clear penalty on me.”

The Portugal manager, Fernando Santos, refused to add to the criticism of the referee and said he would soon hold talks with Fernando Gomes, the Portuguese football federation president, about his future. Santos, who took charge of Portugal in 2014, is under contract until the end of Euro 2024. “We thought we could reach the final and win the final as well,” the 68-year-old said. “I will have a discussion with the president and when we go back to Portugal we will deal with the issue of the contract.”

Santos said he had “no regrets” over not starting Cristiano Ronaldo, who entered as a substitute after 51 minutes. The future of Ronaldo, who turns 38 in February and is a free agent after departing United, remains unclear. Ronaldo was in tears as he headed down the tunnel at full-time. “I think if we [were to] take two people that were the most upset about the game perhaps it was Cristiano and myself,” Santos said.