Outside Uruguay’s luxurious five-star hotel in Doha, reserve goalkeeper Sebastian Sosa stood quietly beside his sister, his father and his brother-in-law.
It was the day after Uruguay’s spiteful exit from the World Cup, the team crashed out on goal difference despite beating Ghana 2-0, but the wounds were still raw.
Sosa is easily recognizable. The 36-year-old Club Atletico Independiente goalkeeper is heavily tattooed, including a striking lion’s head on the back and side of his skull. Sosa has thick painted eyebrows and the hairstyle of a 1980s rock star, but the mood was far from exuberant among a squad that had set themselves the target of quarter-finals at the minimum.
Instead, bitterness hung heavy in the air. Uruguay’s players remain infuriated at the performance of German referee Daniel Siebert who, they believe, missed two clear penalties — one on Darwin Nunez in the 57th minute and another on Edinson Cavani late on.
Siebert reviewed the Nunez incident on the VAR monitor but did not overturn his call. After Cavani was taken down by Ghana defender Alidu Seidu, Uruguay’s bench erupted in anger, but Siebert waved play on. The VAR did not suggest a review, with striker Luis Suarez left so distraught that he started sobbing on the touchline.
Sosa was far from agitated when he spoke to The Athletic on Saturday – he was sipping maté as he waited for his Uber driver – but his frustration was palpable.
“Wow, since the World Cup started we’ve seen things that make you think, ‘This isn’t football anymore,'” he said.
“VAR is supposed to remove doubt but it also creates more questions. Because sometimes (VAR) leaves some decisions in the referee’s hands, like the penalties from last night. So when does VAR intervene? At what point does VAR intervene? When do they get involved? When don’t they? Honestly it’s a really bitter feeling, very bitter because there were two situations in which it didn’t benefit us. In fact it hurts us. That includes the penalty against Portugal.”
The latter was a reference to an incident in the game against Portugal on November 28, when Uruguay defender Jose Maria Gimenez was ruled to have handled the ball as he fell to the ground inside his own box. According to Sosa, the players had been told in a meeting with a FIFA referee before the World Cup to better understand how the tournament was going to be officiated, that “if an arm goes to the ground and it’s parallel to the ground, it would “t be considered a handball”.
“You could see clearly that (Gimenez) had no intention of touching the ball, it’s a hand parallel to the ground,” Sosa added. “The rules are there in order to be followed. The referee did not see it as a penalty. And after VAR called down to him, they ruled it as a penalty. And yesterday the VAR called down and the referee didn’t think he had to review it. So when is it reviewed? When isn’t it? It’s upsetting. You start to believe that football is taking an unintended path, one that those on the pitch don’t want.”
Asked if he believed last night’s result was unfair to Uruguay, Sosa put on a pair of sunglasses and took a deep breath.
“For me it was a total injustice. For me and for the people of Uruguay. Everyone who watched the game is talking about it. I’ve seen it on the news shows and not just in Uruguay, everywhere. But it does us no good. Whatever decision is made regarding the referee, like not allowing him to officiate again, whatever it may be, we’re not interested. We’re already out because of him. (The World Cup) was our dream. We were so hopeful. There’s nothing else to be done.”
Sosa did not know whether Uruguay’s football federation would take any action against Siebert.
“I have no idea. We’re out of Qatar and that’s what hurts,” he said. “There’s no going back. Whatever happens now won’t give us what we deserved, which was to advance to the next round.”
Of course, Uruguay have their own potential sanctions to worry about. Cavani was captured on camera knocking over the VAR monitor as he exited the pitch and Gimenez could be in even deeper trouble after a video surfaced appearing to show him elbowing a FIFA official, reported to be the competition director, during a melee after the match. Gimenez was seen at the hotel with his family, but he avoided reporters and continued towards the elevators.
The post-match scenes did little to dispel the view of Uruguay as among the most cynical sides in world football — a reputation that rather downplays their obvious quality. Asked if that image makes them a target for referees, Sosa shook his head.
“No, no, because whether it’s our attitude, gamesmanship or a gesture, there are so many cameras now that record what a player does,” said Sosa. “There can’t be any prejudice or a suggestion that Uruguay plays a certain way when today what prevails on the pitch are the cameras. You have to remove all of that because if a referee thinks that he may have been fooled, the cameras speak for themselves.”
Uruguay’s players were doing their best to return to something close to normality on Saturday. Liverpool striker Nunez could be seen walking with his girlfriend, while carrying his young son asleep in his arms. Two fans wearing Japanese jerseys took selfies before rushing away.
Sosa made his departure as Giorgian De Arrascaeta – scorer of both Uruguay’s goals against Ghana – arrived with his girlfriend. He declined to comment about the match.
Defender Sebastian Coates broke off from ordering a taxi for himself, his wife and two children, to share his own frustrations.
“I’d rather not talk about the referees. It’s done,” Coates said. “There’s not much that we can do. I think everyone saw it. Anyone can say what they want. Perhaps the only injustice was that (the referee) didn’t go to the VAR monitor. He could’ve still stuck to his decision of whether it was a penalty or not. That’s the only injustice.”
And with that, he was gone — along with Uruguay’s World Cup ambitions. The repercussions of Friday’s match, however, could rumble on for some time.
Which Uruguay players stand accused?
The former Manchester United striker was seen haranguing the officials as they made their way from the field, and then pushed over the Video Assistant Referee monitor as he started to walk down the tunnel.
The Athletic have contacted FIFA to ask if it plans to take action.
The best of Cavani in the world pic.twitter.com/7LrpK4qWbN
— Mr. Baru (@crearOreventar) December 2, 2022
Jose Maria Gimenez
Video footage that emerged after the game appeared to show the Atletico Madrid defender connecting with the back of a FIFA official’s head with his elbow as he remonstrated with referee Siebert as he left the pitch.
A separate video then shows him shouting into a television camera, accusing the match officials of being “thieves” and insulting them with foul language. Uruguay’s Mundo Deportivo newspaper has suggested Gimenez could be banned for up to 15 matches for his behavior, if charged.
Si lees entre líneas lo que dice Josema Giménez, se sintió robado por el arbitraje ante Ghana pic.twitter.com/lwYrVrd7YP
— Paul Tenorio (@Paul_Tenorio) December 3, 2022
Uruguay’s reserve goalkeeper was seen screaming at one of the assistant referees as the players left the field, and then shoving him in the back.
miren a muslera chee pic.twitter.com/LY42tlgm0e
— avi | jin day? (@JHTOKYO) December 2, 2022
The Uruguayan midfielder was caught on camera celebrating Andre Ayew’s penalty miss in the first half by gesturing at Siebert, apparently in reaction to the controversial manner in which it was awarded.
Referee Daniel Siebert calls a controversial penalty kick against Uruguay.
It’s saved. Fede Valverde celebrates in the refs face. Don’t try to understand it. Only in Uruguay ?? ? pic.twitter.com/HopZG2TXUl
— Nico Cantor (@Nicocantor1) December 2, 2022
(Top photo: Li Gang/Xinhua via Getty Images)