Lionel Messi has always carried the persona of a composed footballer on and off the field. But after one particular match in the tournament — the quarterfinal against the Netherlands – the forward lost his cool and did not stop criticising the referee after the game.
“I don’t want to talk about referees because then they will sanction you,” Messi said during the post-match interview with the organiser.
“But we were scared before the game because we knew what was coming [with Mateu Lahoz]. They cannot put a referee like that on this game when he is not up to the level,” he added.
Who was the referee Messi was angry with?
Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz was in charge of the quarterfinal match between Netherlands and Argentina at the Lusail Stadium.
He was assisted by compatriots Pau Cebrian Devis and Roberto Diaz Perez Del Palomar on the pitch, with Victor Gomes of South Africa being the fourth official. Alejandro Hernandez of Spain will be Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Lahoz has experience officiating FIFA World Cup, La Liga, and UEFA Champions League matches.
One of the highlights of his career was the 2021 Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea when the Blues emerged as the winner.
In the Qatar World Cup, Lahoz officiated three matches in total – Qatar vs Senegal, USA vs Iran and Netherlands vs Argentina. In three games, he issued a total of 25 yellow cards.
This was Lahoz’s fifth game in a World Cup after the two he officiated in the 2018 Russia World Cup. He also acted as the fourth referee in three games in Russia.
Why was Messi angry with Lahoz?
The clash, Netherlands vs Argentina – saw a total of 19 bookings, including a yellow card to Lionel Messi as well.
The match broke the record for most bookings in a game, breaking the record of the Portugal vs Netherlands round of 16 game in the 2006 World Cup, popularly known as the ‘Battle of Nuremberg.’
Out of the 19 bookings, two were shown to Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni and support staff Walter Samuel. Netherlands full-back Denzel Dumfries was the only player to see a second yellow during the penalty shootout.
Messi has had quite the history with Lahoz. He was officiating in the 2020 Barcelona vs Osasuna game where Messi had paid tribute to Diego Maradona after his death. Much to the displeasure of fans, Lahoz had booked Messi for removing his jersey.
In another instance, Lahoz disallowed a Messi goal for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid during the 2013-14 La Liga. The match had ended in a 1-1 draw and Atletico went on to win the title. Lahoz had later apologised to Barcelona for wrongly disallowing the goal, the team’s then assistant manager Elvio Paolorosso revealed.
“But we were scared before the game because we knew what was coming [with Mateu Lahoz]. They cannot put a referee like that in this game when he is not up to the level,” Messi said.
Similarly, Lahoz had also famously sent Pep Guardiola off for dissent during Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Liverpool in 2017/18.
“I could not care less,” Guardiola had said then.
La Albiceleste goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez added that Lahoz was “crazy, the worst referee of the tournament, he is arrogant.”
He added: “You say something to him and he talks back to you badly. I think since Spain went out, he wanted us to go out as well.
Was any action taken?
FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the Argentina Football Federation after the remarks.
“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has opened proceedings against the Argentinian Football Association due to potential breaches of articles 12 (Misconduct of players and officials) and 16 (Order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code during the Netherlands vs Argentina FIFA World Cup match,” it said in a statement.
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But no decision on the proceedings has come since. Lahoz meanwhile was reportedly sent home after the match and he did not play any part in the remaining part of the tournament.