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Referee chief backs his officials against criticism

BERLIN : Far from being alarmed at the record number of cautions and ejections at the World Cup, the head of FIFA's referees committee thinks tournament officials are doing a great job.

Valentin Ivanov's unprecedented four red cards and 16 yellow in the Portugal-Netherlands second-round match was merely the Russian referee ``pulling the cards that he saw,'' said Angel Maria Villar.

``He's a great referee. Ivanov whistled what he saw — he pulled the cards he had to pull depending on what he saw.''

Coaches, players, analysts and fans have all condemned the officials.

While defending his referees, and saying the officials were given reminders before the tournament by FIFA about rigidly upholding the laws, Villar conceded that the Ivanov match ``is something that will stick in our minds.''

Material mistake

English Premier League referee Graham Poll made a ``material mistake'' by issuing three yellow cards to the same player in the drawn first-round match between Croatia and Australia, Villar said. If Australia had protested the result, organisers would have had no choice but to replay the match.

After 56 of the 64 matches, referees had issued 25 red cards and 310 yellow, more than any previous World Cup tournament.

That's fine by Villar, who thinks it has led to more attacking play.

``Ninety-plus per cent of the refereeing has been at a very high level, nothing like what we saw in Korea and Japan — a far cry from that,'' he said. ``We have far less serious injuries, and far more goals scored.

``We want a clean World Cup and we are achieving that. Of course there have been errors — but we are all human beings and we have the right to make mistakes.''

Graded

Villar, a FIFA vice-president and former Spanish international, said referees were graded Wednesday for their performances in the first two rounds, with 12 teams — each comprising a referee and two linesmen — retained for the quarterfinals.

Two of the most experienced officials — Poll and Ivanov — were sent home.

``We have given marks to the referees and their marks have been high — much, much better than last time,'' Villar said. ``The 32 classified teams are the best in the world. Our team of referees has been ... comparable with the teams that are here.'' — AP

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