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Ghana coach calls out American referee for awarding penalty kick to Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo unleashed a shot from the penalty spot that Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi was unable to stop.Richard Heathcote/Getty

Ghana coach Otto Addo criticized the American referee who awarded the penalty that resulted in Cristiano Ronaldo’s record goal at the World Cup on Thursday, calling it “a special gift.”

Ronaldo won and converted the second-half penalty, making him the first male player to score in five World Cups. Portugal went on to beat Ghana, 3-2, in Doha, Qatar.

“If somebody scores a goal, congratulations. But this was really a gift. Really a gift,” Addo said. “What more can I say? (It was) a special gift from the referee.”

Addo’s criticism of American referee Ismail Elfath was so direct that it could put him into trouble with FIFA.

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When asked what he thought was the reason for Ghana’s narrow defeat, Addo responded: “The referee.”

Addo felt Ghana defender Mohammed Salisu didn’t foul Ronaldo for the penalty, and he complained that the officials didn’t use VAR to make sure. Salisu’s thigh appeared to make slight contact with Ronaldo’s leg before the Portugal captain went sprawling to the ground.

The 37-year-old Ronaldo, who was starting what’s expected to be his last World Cup, converted the penalty for his piece of history.

“I think it was really the wrong decision,” Addo said. “I don’t know why VAR didn’t come up. There’s no explanation for me. And then it’s difficult against a world-class team when they are leading.”

Addo is a 47-year-old former Ghana player who is in his first international coaching job and at his first World Cup. He said he even tried to meet with Elfath after the game to ask him about the incident. Addo also complained that Elfath had missed numerous fouls on his players.

“I tried,” Addo said. “I asked some people outside with FIFA if I can talk with the referee in a calm and a quiet way but they said he’s in a meeting and it’s not possible.”

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Iñaki Williams played his first World Cup game for Ghana a day after younger brother Nico and Spain beat Costa Rica. The brothers were both born in Spain but their parents are from Ghana, and while they play professionally together for Athletic Balboa, each honors a part of the family’s heritage.

Embolo true to his word, quietly

Born in Cameroon but playing for Switzerland, of course Breel Embolo would score when those two countries met at the World Cup. Embolo promised he wouldn’t celebrate if he scored for the Swiss team against his country of birth, and he kept his word.

It turned out to be the only goal of the match as Switzerland beat Cameroon, 1-0, in Al Wakrah, Qatar.

Breel Embolo silently celebrated scoring the lone goal in Switzerland's win against the country of his birth, Cameroon.FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

“I would have liked him to be on my side,” said Cameroon coach Rigobert Song, who played in four World Cups for his home country, “but that’s not the way it went.”

The crowd waited and watched for Embolo’s reaction after he scored his 12th goal for Switzerland in the 48th minute.

Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said he had offered some advice to Embolo about dealing with his emotions.

“You can be friendly up to kickoff,” Yakin said, “and after that they are our opponents.”

Embolo left Cameroon with his family when he was 5. They spent time in France before settling in Switzerland, the country he is now representing at a second World Cup.

Richarlison, Brazil two good for Serbia

With Neymar limping off the field with an ankle injury, Richarlison came through for the “Seleção.”

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A spectacular acrobatic kick followed an easy tap-in from close range as Richarlison scored both goals in Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Serbia in Lusail, Qatar. He had his back to the goal when he used one touch to get the ball up in the air near the penalty spot, then spun around and leapt off the ground before knocking the ball into the net with his right foot in the 73rd minute.

“My childhood dream has come true,” said Richarlison, who is playing in his first World Cup.

Richarlison scored his second goal in spectacular fashion for Brazil.Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

Brazil had struggled to get past the Serbian defense until the Tottenham forward scored from close range in the 62nd in a buildup that started with Neymar. Vinícius Júnior assisted on both goals.

Neymar, seeking his first major title with Brazil, stayed at 75 goals for the national team, two shy of Pelé's scoring record. He was tackled hard a few times and hurt his right ankle in the second half. He was limping at one point and ended up crying on the bench after being substituted in the 79th.

Uruguay settles for 0-0 draw

Another favored team has failed to impress in the early stages of the World Cup. This time it was South Korea holding South American power Uruguay to a 0-0 draw in Al Rayyan, Qatar, a result that probably favors the Asian team.

Argentina and Germany both lost their opening games in major upsets. This one hinted at being another.

Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said he was satisfied, and so did South Korea counterpart Paulo Bento. Alonso sounded less convincing.

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“I’m more than happy with the result,” Alonso said. “I’m sure that this group stage will be determined by the last match. We all know the second game is key, and so is the third one. But this will not affect whether we qualify of not.”

Facundo Pellistri of Uruguay beat a masked Heungmin Son of South Korea on this possession, but the teams played to a scoreless draw.Stu Forster/Getty

The draw was the fourth scoreless game of this year’s World Cup — already more than half the tournament record through the first set of matches. The record is seven, done four times (1982, 2006, 2010, and 2014).

Rainbow symbols OK’d

The Welsh soccer federation said FIFA has offered assurances that fans wearing rainbow symbols will be allowed at Friday’s World Cup game against Iran. The federation had asked FIFA for clarity on reports some Wales fans were stopped from taking rainbow bucket hats and flags into the team’s World Cup opener against the United States on Monday.

“FIFA has confirmed that fans with Rainbow Wall bucket hats and rainbow flags will be allowed entry to the stadium,” the Welsh federation posted Thursday to social media. The Rainbow Wall is Wales’ LGBTQ supporters’ group. The federation added that all World Cup venues have been “contacted and instructed to follow the agreed rules & regulations.”

Rainbow imagery, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, is frowned upon in Qatar, where same-sex relations are criminalized.

Ex-national team member arrested in Iran

A prominent Iranian soccer player was arrested on charges that included destroying the reputation of the country’s national team, which is competing in the World Cup, state-linked Iranian media outlets reported Thursday.

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The player, Voria Ghafouri, is a former member of Iran’s national squad and a frequent critic of the government. His arrest in Iran occurred at a moment in which the nation’s soccer players are under close scrutiny for their statements about a nationwide uprising in Iran that has continued for months.

Iran’s national team, during a match against England on Monday, declined to sing during the country’s national anthem, in what was widely seen as a silent acknowledgment of the protests. Iran’s national broadcaster showed select images of spectators cheering for Iran during the match, but not the political signs carried by spectators.

Iran is set to play Wales on Friday.