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Referee hits back at Messi, Argentina accusations

Ecuadoran referee Roddy Zambrano came in for harsh criticism over his officiating in the Copa America semi-final between hosts Brazil and Argentina © AFP / Pedro UGARTE

QUITO, Ecuador, Jul 10The referee accused by Argentina at the Copa America of having made “serious and gross” mistakes during their semi-final defeat to Brazil has hit back at his detractors accusing them of being bad losers.

Argentina and their captain Lionel Messi were incensed that Ecuadoran handler Roddy Zambrano not only failed to award them two penalties in their 2-0 defeat last week but that he also refused to consult VAR to check their claims.

“I’m very calm about what happened, I was very transparent in my work, I tried to do my best,” Zambrano told Ecuadoran radio station SuperK-800 in an interview broadcast late on Tuesday.

Some Brazilian media reports claimed that the security team of the watching Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro had interfered with the radio communication between Zambrano and the VAR office.

“Fortunately everything that was said on the field and everything said in the cabin by VAR has been recorded,” said Zambrano.

And he suggested that he was in a no-win situation from the start when officiating a key match between two such bitter rivals.

“We knew it was going to be a difficult match, we knew that the losing team would look for someone to blame. We knew that before the match and obviously the guilty parties are going to be us (the officials).”

Five-time world player of the year Messi had fumed after the match that South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL was biased towards the tournament hosts.

He said he’d “grown tired of talking about the bullshit in this Copa,” adding that “Brazil were the hosts and they’re managing a lot in CONMEBOL these days, which makes it complicated” for everyone else.

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The two incidents that angered the Argentines were when Sergio Aguero appeared to be bundled over in the box by Brazil captain Dani Alves, and a blatant shoulder charge by Arthur into the neck of Nicolas Otamendi.

Television replays suggested both were stonewall penalties and Argentina Football Association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia complained that Zambrano “unjustifiably omitted the use of VAR” to review the two incidents.

Zambrano, though, claimed Aguero, who was looking at the ball and did not see Alves arriving from behind him, was responsible for that first collision — which happened in the build up to Brazil’s clinching second goal.

“Why didn’t they (television) show the image from behind the goal where you can clearly see that Aguero goes in recklessly,” said Zambrano, adding that the collisions “was the forward’s fault.”

He claimed not to have seen the other incident and that VAR deemed it to be unclear and therefore “I had not made a clear error so there was no need to contact me.”

Argentina went on to finish third, beating Chile 2-1 in a match in which Messi was harshly sent off, while Brazil earned a ninth title with a 3-1 victory over Peru in the final.

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