Lionel Messi’s plot emerges as Portugal rages over the ‘unacceptable’ appointment of Argentina’s referee at the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Two Portuguese veterans have targeted Lionel Messi, Argentina and FIFA in a bitter aftermath of his country’s elimination from the World Cup.

Pepe accused the global football governing body of ensuring they “can now give the title to Argentina” following Portugal’s 1-0 defeat by Morocco in the quarter-finals.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: The Moroccan star’s mum steals the show at the World Cup celebrations.

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The game came 24 hours after Argentina’s controversial win over the Netherlands on penalties, followed by the winner’s outrage at Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz.

“(Netherlands’ equaliser) came from a set piece which I don’t consider a foul,” Messi said.

“I don’t want to talk about referees because you can be sanctioned. I don’t think he was up to standard, he was very damaging to us.”

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez said: “The referee just gave everything for them… he just wanted them to score, that was basically it. Hopefully we don’t have that referee anymore. He’s useless.”

Lionel Messi (centre) was furious with the Spanish referee. Recognition: jam media/Getty Images

On Saturday, Messi and Martinez’s compatriot Facundo Tello came under fire from Portugal.

“It is unacceptable that an Argentinian referee officiates our game,” said Pepe.

“After what happened yesterday, all of Argentina talked when Messi talked and the referee comes here to blow the whistle.

“I’m not saying he comes here conditioned… but what did we play in the second half? We weren’t allowed to play the second half.”

He added: “I can bet Argentina will be champions.”

Among the main complaints from teammate Bruno Fernandes was that not only does Tello hail from a nation still in contention for the World Cup, but he also doesn’t officiate in Europe’s top-flight Champions League.

Pepe rages on the Argentine officials. Recognition: Francois Nel/Getty Images

“We already know how it works… before the game we already knew what we were getting into and what kind of referee we were going to find,” said Fernandes.

“I don’t know if they will give Argentina the trophy.

“I don’t care, I’ll say what I think and piss them off. It’s very strange that a ref appoints us from a country that’s still in the competition… clearly they tipped the field against us.

“Unfortunately, in these competitions where there are no Portuguese referees, there are referees from teams that are still in the competition.”

Portugal coach Fernando Santos refused to join his players in blaming the referee and many post-match questions centered on the decision to bench Cristiano Ronaldo.

After dropping Ronaldo in the 6-1 win over Switzerland and watching his replacement Goncalo Ramos score a hat-trick, Santos stayed with the same team.

Cristiano Ronaldo leaves the field in tears, with a slap on the back from his coach. Recognition: David Ramos/FIFA via Getty Images

Youssef En-Nesyri put Morocco ahead in the first half and Santos sent off Ronaldo early in the second half but he had little impact and walked off in tears at the end of the 1-0 defeat, his last chance at a world champion’ Medal safely gone.

“No regrets. I think it was a team that played very well against Switzerland,” Santos defended his team selection.

“Cristiano is a great player. He came when we felt it was necessary.”

Ronaldo’s appearance was his 196th cap, tying the men’s world record set by Kuwait’s Badr Al-Mutawa.

Joao Felix was Portugal’s main threat, twice forcing Morocco keeper Bono to make impressive saves while Pepe had a golden chance to equalize with almost the last shot of the game.

“Of course our players are desperate, they’re upset,” said Santos.

“We’re even more upset because we know we have skillful players and we expected to bring more joy to the Portuguese.

“We knew what challenges we would face, especially in terms of defensive strategy. We tried to make the game difficult for our opponents, but we weren’t successful.

“Of course we also have to give credit to the Moroccan team. I don’t think it’s fair if we lose, but that’s football.”

– with AAP

Morocco reaches the World Cup semi-finals with one goal

Morocco reaches the World Cup semi-finals with one goal Lionel Messi’s plot emerges as Portugal rages over the ‘unacceptable’ appointment of Argentina’s referee at the 2022 FIFA World Cup

James Brien

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