Soccer makes very little sense at the best of times, and on Monday, in the dying moments of Irans World Cup match against Portugal, it made no sense at all. The game had been combative. It was the third and final match day in Group B, and both teams had a chance to advance to the knockout stage; both teams also knew that a bad result could send them home. Elbows flew on every contested header. Bodies strained in ways that made you think of the word sinew, possibly for the first time all year. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese star, winced so hard after bashing a free kick into the Iranian wall that his neck briefly looked like the Rocks neck.
Both teams had chances to score. Ronaldo even took a penalty, in the fifty-third minute, but it was saved by the Iranian goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand. Both had spent shrill minutes shrieking at and pleading with the referee, who had, from the perspective of the players, committed several of the most unfathomable injustices ever perpetrated by a human being. By the same token, he had also graced the world with many of the fairest and most far-seeing judgments that anyone had ever encountered. They were the same decisions; it only depended from which side you were looking at them. Heading into stoppage time, Portugal led 10 thanks to a screaming party trick of a shot by Ricardo Quaresma (also known as a Ricardo Quaresma shot). If the results from this match and Spains simultaneous game against Morocco held up, Portugal and Spain would advance from Group B.
Now, however, in the ninety-first minute, the referee, Enrique Cáceres, stood huddled under the visor of the video-replay unit on the sideline. He was checking to see whether Portugals Cédric Soares had committed a handball in the area, an infraction that would lead to an Iranian penalty. This World Cup is the first to use fifas new video-assistant referee system, and this was the first moment in World Cup history when an entire group seemed likely to be decided based on a referees encounter with a television. Cáceres stood there for a long time, watching. Universes rose and fell while the footage looped. If Iran could steal a goal here, and if Morocco could somehow beat Spain by two goals or more, then it would be Spain, one of the favorites, that would be bumped from the tournament; Iran would advance. Incredibly, Morocco was winning. Everything hung on Cáceress decision. Diadems dropped and doges surrendered. Ronaldo unhinged and rehinged his jaw, like a deadly python that loves to wear aviators on a yacht for some reason.
Cáceres watched. And watched. And watched. He stood there for so long I started to wonder if the replay unit got Netflix. Had a new season of Terrace House dropped? I am against video replay in soccer, partly because I find it naïve to imagine that television footage could forestall crises of interpretation in a sport whose rulebook often forces the referee to assess other human beings inner thoughts (Did he intend to pong the ball away with his fist, or did it just, like, happen to get ponged?), and partly because it is boring to watch the referee watch the match you are watching. I had to admit, however, that there was something fascinating about this moment. A new kind of drama had entered the World Cup: the excruciating thrill of technologically enabled meta-bewilderment. My Twitter timeline filled up with variants of the message I have no idea whats going on right now. I was bored, yet my heart was racing. Welcome to sports in 2018! Finally, Cáceres turned away from the monitor, strode back onto the pitch, and, having taken plenty of time to come to the correct decision, confidently announced what appeared to be a highly incorrect one. Soaress handball had looked accidental. Penalty for Iran!
Karim Ansarifard, a substitute who had entered the match in the seventy-sixth minute, converted the shot. Iran was alive! The World Cup was happening! Fibre-optic cables were carrying Game of Thrones under the sea! Mehdi Taremi nearly scored a second for Iran, in the ninety-fifth minute, a result that would have upended civilization on several continents, but the ball whanged into the side of the net and civilization continued its sad march.
Around this time, viewers at home learned that Spain had levelled the match against Morocco, also in stoppage time. Irans hopes were squashed. Spain and Portugal were going to advance, just as they had been set to do before these strange minutes of uneventful madness. Spains goal, which was scored by Iago Aspas, had in fact come a little earlier, but it took several minutes to be awarded. It had looked dubious in real time. The officials consulted the video.
Source: The New Yorker
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