The referee who awarded Real Madrid a decisive 94th-minute penalty in Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Elche has been informally removed from action -- or “put in the freezer”, as such a step is known in Spain.
With the match deadlocked at 1-1 and time seemingly up, Cesar Muniz Fernandez saw a pull by Elche midfielder Carlos Sanchez on Pepe and gave a penalty which Cristiano Ronaldo converted to secure the points.
However, most observers saw a foul the other way and the decision generated huge debate in Spain, with Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa weighing in on Twitter.
Muniz Fernandez was chased by journalists as he lunched in Madrid on Thursday, leaving a restaurant by the back door to avoid TV cameras, AS reported.
Amid the turbulence, Spanish referees’ chief Victoriano Sanchez Arminio -- who had never previously commented on individual referees or decisions -- told AS the official had made an error.
“I would not have given that penalty,” he said. “But sometimes you get it right and sometimes you do not. That is the way it is.”
He added that the 43-year-old, who has 14 years of top-flight experience, may have been in “not a good moment for him, maybe he had some personal problem, or something which caused this”.
And he pointed out that players were not making the task faced by officials any easier, adding: “The players do not help you at all. Just the opposite -- they try to trick you.”
The Elche game was not the first in which Muniz Fernandez was involved in controversy this season. Sevilla players claimed “robbery” after he ruled out a seemingly good goal by Cala in their 3-2 defeat at Barcelona on September 14.
Elche are reported to be considering what options they can take to appeal or seek redress. Told that Muniz Fernandez was being stood down, midfielder Ruben Perez was nonplussed. "In the freezer?," Perez said to AS. "With much ice or none? The referees always whistle in favour of the big teams, but this was too much."