Alan Shearer is furious with VAR system after Portugal draw with Iran

David Cooper 26/06/2018
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Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres used VAR to award Iran's penalty against Portugal

The Video Assistant Referee system at the World Cup is in the spotlight once again following a controversial penalty decision in Portugal‘s draw with Iran which Alan Shearer has described as “ludicrous”.

Portugal had looked set to progress to the last 16 as winners of Group B after Ricardo Quaresma’s superb first-half goal saw them leading 1-0 going into stoppage time in Saransk.

However, with time almost up, Iran were awarded a penalty after Portugal defender Cedric Soares was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area as he challenged for a cross.

The spot-kick was awarded by referee Enrique Caceres following a VAR referral and, with Karim Ansarifard successfully converting from 12 yards, Portugal were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw and second place behind group winners Spain.

Former England captain Shearer was astonished the penalty was given, saying such decisions are turning football into an “absolute farce”.

“If he thinks that’s a deliberate handball then he’s crazy,” the BBC pundit said during the post-match analysis.

“In his rule-book, every time it hits a hand it’s a penalty. It’s ridiculous. How can he do anything about that? He’s half a yard away and the defender’s eyes are closed. There’s no way on earth that’s a deliberate handball.

“That was my fear coming into this tournament, that you’re going to get decisions like this. It turns the game into an absolute farce.”

He added: “It’s nonsense, it’s utter nonsense. He had a clear view from 12 yards away and didn’t think it was a penalty. I’m trying to keep calm without swearing. I’m getting angry here because that’s just a ludicrous decision.”

Iran’s penalty is the latest in a string of VAR rulings during the World Cup that have prompted debate and criticism of the process.

There were two other incidents earlier in the same match, with Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo awarded a 53rd-minute penalty after referee Caceres had a second look at Morteza Pouraliganji’s clumsy challenge on him.

Ronaldo, who saw his spot-kick saved by Ali Beiranvand, was also later the subject of a VAR red card review after he was caught apparently taking a swing at Pouraliganji off the ball – he was eventually shown yellow.

The VAR system also played a key role in Monday night’s other Group B match between Spain and Morocco.

Spain were on course for a shock defeat, trailing 2-1 with 90 minutes up, when substitute Iago Aspas flicked the ball into the net.

The offside flag was immediately raised but, after video analysis, the goal was subsequently given and the 2010 world champions escaped with a 2-2 draw in Kaliningrad.

Spain now play hosts Russia in the knockout stages, with Portugal facing Group A winners Uruguay.

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Injured Liverpool star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain admits watching England's World Cup opener was tough

Simon Peach 26/06/2018
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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found it tough watching England’s World Cup opener, especially as the injured midfielder believes Gareth Southgate‘s men boast the talent to mount a serious challenge in Russia.

Four years on from a knee issue denying him an appearance in Brazil, the 24-year-old’s hopes of performing on the global stage were again cruelly scotched.

A knee ligament injury ended Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season in April, ruling him out of Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final and England’s tilt at World Cup glory.

“I’ve been watching the World Cup – following it and supporting the boys every inch of the way,” he told talkSPORT.

“I must admit the first game was tough to watch, the Tunisia game. It’s obviously a moment when you realise what a great opportunity you’re missing. But these things happen in life and I am keeping positive.

“The Champions League final as well, that was obviously devastating to miss. The final whistle in that game, when we obviously didn’t win, sort of all this emotion rushing over me and something I’ve never really experienced before.

“I was in tears on the pitch and I am not a crier at all, but I think I was sort of clinging on to that for the lads and for Liverpool, for the club. I know how much everyone wanted it, and myself as well.

“When you get injured en route to something special, you’d hope it ends out in the right way so it was all kind of worthwhile.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 3

“Seeing the boys putting in the performances leading up to that and even in the final, I was so proud of them all and it’s just a shame we couldn’t get that one over the line.

“But I am positive and moving forward, so I am all good thank you.”

That positivity is matched when it comes to England’s chances in Russia, where progress has been sealed with a match to spare.

Thursday’s match against Belgium will decide who finishes top of Group G, with the Three Lions having secured a last-gasp 2-1 win against Tunisia before humiliating Panama 6-1.

“I definitely think we have the talent, there’s no doubting that,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said of England’s World Cup chances. “A lot of it comes down to who turns up on the day.

“I know the team have been working massively on being resilient and hard to beat, sticking together until the end – so far the boys have shown that really well.

“We’ve given ourselves the best chance and that’s all we can do.”

England’s hopes are also boosted further by talisman Harry Kane, whose five goals put him atop of the Golden Boot standings.

“We all know how capable he is of scoring, but to take it to the World Cup is what all top goalscorers try to do,” Oxlade-Chamberlain added.

“He’s on a great run of form at the moment and long may that continue in this tournament.

“He’s been brilliant leading the boys, not just vocally, but with his performances, which is massive.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Belgium's Toby Alderweireld insists the only result they want against England is a victory

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England warning: Toby Alderweireld

Toby Alderweireld has warned England that Belgium will have nothing but victory in mind in their World Cup Group G showdown in Kaliningrad.

The sides will battle it out for top spot in the pool having both seen off Tunisia and Panama to set up a highly anticipated meeting in which the winners will claim top spot.

They are currently locked together on six points with the same goal difference, having scored and conceded the same number of goals, although England are currently ahead by virtue of fewer bookings.

Amid a debate over whether it would be better to finish first or second, Alderweireld told a press conference: “We are going to try to win the game, because as a footballer you want to win every game.”

The defender, who has started both of his side’s games to date, is one of three Tottenham players in Belgium’s squad alongside Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele, and could be surrounded by more familiar faces if he keeps his place on Thursday with club-mates Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane among the England ranks.

Quoted by Belgian Red Devils on Twitter, he said: “Before the World Cup, in the Spurs dressing room, we spoke a lot about the game against England. We are looking forward to it.

“England will be a very good test. I am ready if the coach needs me.”

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has hinted he will use the depth of his squad despite what is at stake in the game, although it remains to be seen whether striker Romelu Lukaku will be fit to play any part.

The Manchester United frontman suffered an ankle injury during Saturday’s 5-2 win over Tunisia and did not train on Tuesday morning after having a scan the previous day.

But club-mate Marouane Fellaini, who was used as a substitute in that game, is confident that even a much-changed side would do the job required.

He said: “If we want to go far in this World Cup, we will need every player. Everybody is ready to play, everybody wants to play.

“It will be an interesting game against England, but it will be a strange one also because both teams are qualified.”

Like Alderweireld, Fellaini will know some of his potential opponents very well, and he was full of praise for United and England midfielder Jesse Lingard.

He said: “He’s a very clever player on the pitch and we have seen that. He has done very well in the last few years – that’s why he plays for Manchester United.

“He’s a great person, a great character. He loves a joke and a laugh and, in the group, that’s important.”

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