For all the stars on the Puskas Arena pitch, for all the players with the ability to influence the biggest of games, it was Antonio Mateu Lahoz who arguably proved most decisive in this Group F draw between Portugal and France at Euro 2020.
For the uninitiated, that is not the name of some secret weapon of a player included in Didier Deschamps’ expanded squad for this summer’s tournament, nor a French defector in the Portuguese ranks.
Lahoz was the man in the middle in Budapest, a man lauded for his performance in the Champions League final earlier this month but the subject of wariness due to his willingness – eagerness, it seems at times – to award spot-kicks.
Such wariness over the Spaniard’s predilection for penalties proved pertinent on Wednesday evening, as Lahoz awarded three while Portugal and France contested a rematch of the Euro 2016 final, with the stakes higher than some observers appreciated before kick-off.
France’s top spot in Group F was on the line, though Portugal could have occupied any of the four positions in the pool. As it turned out, they took the third, reaching the last 16 with this 2-2 draw.
Their evening began promisingly as an unusually out-of-sorts France team committed a catalogue of errors, culminating in goalkeeper Hugo Lloris nearly decapitating Danilo with a punched clearance on the half-hour mark.
Deschamps’ captain presented his case, that he had connected with the ball before connecting with the temple of the Portugal midfielder, but Lahoz recognised that Lloris had only done so after Danilo nodded the ball onto the keeper’s glove.
It was an astute piece of officiating from the 44-year-old, for which Cristiano Ronaldo – goalscorer from the spot – was grateful, but in added time of the first half Lahoz was forced into another crucial decision around a spot-kick, again pointing to a small circle of paint but this time erring in his judgement.
Nelson Semedo was deemed to have unfairly blocked Kylian Mbappe during the France forward’s run into the Portugal box, in what was really a routine coming-together.
Karim Benzema equalised for the world champions from 12 yards, forcing the European champions to head into the break on level terms.
Two minutes into the second half, the Real Madrid striker struck again. His goal was immediately chalked off for offside, before a VAR check saw the tidy finish in fact stand.
On the hour mark, Lahoz was called into action again, awarding a second Portugal penalty – and third of the game – for a handball by Jules Kounde. Ronaldo had blasted the ball upwards and at the France defender’s arm from close range, but admittedly that limb was positioned somewhat unnaturally.
Kounde was not given the benefit of the doubt by Lahoz, who probably should be given the benefit of the doubt for his decision in that moment, one that resulted in another Ronaldo goal and record, as well as a Portugal equaliser.
The drama was done – well, as far as concerns Lahoz, though a terrific Rui Patricio double-save cannot be overlooked.
Two of three correct calls in a game as wild as this, in a group as wild as this, will arguably be deemed enough for Lahoz, though the margins between a successful night for the Spaniard and an unsuccessful one are rather slim.
That is a feeling with which Portugal, Germany and Hungary will all sympathise.