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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 July, 2004, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Merk slams bias claims
By Phil McNulty
Our man in Portugal

Euro 2004 final referee Markus Merk
Euro 2004 final referee Markus Merk has hit back at slurs claiming he is a friend of Greece coach and fellow German Otto Rehhagel and may favour him against Portugal.

The Portuguese media have whipped up a debate about Uefa's decision to appoint a German referee in a game involving Rehhagel.

But dentist Merk said: "I have heard all these discussions about him being a patient of mine. I have 5,000 patients and there are Greek and Portuguese people among them.

"The referees' team will be the most neutral people in the stadium on Sunday."

Mr Merk is a fanatically fair person. He is very severe with me - very strict
Otto Rehhagel

Merk added: "Every international referee has a lot of matches in foreign countries, so it is not unusual for a German referee to take charge of a match with a German coach.

"It is a peak to referee this game and we want to show Europe and the world an excellent performance.

"At the start we wanted to build a very good house with our performances and now we want to put the roof on with another good performance in the final.

"I understand these questions, but it is part of a referee's character to be neutral.

"When I get on the pitch I always have players in front of me who are much more my friends than others, but once you are on the pitch you are neutral.

"I just see two teams and two colours."

Greece coach Rehhagel has become angry at the claims, and hit out again at his final media conference before the final.

The referees' team will be the most neutral people in the stadium on Sunday
Markus Merk

He said: "I kindly request people to listen to what I say about this. I've said it once and I will say it again.

"Mr Merk is a fanatically fair person. He is very severe with me - very strict.

"He has already sent me from the dug-out once. Yes I know him, but he is not a friend of mine. Friendship is a completely different matter."

And Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has also diffused talk that Merk will not be impartial in his handling of the final.

"The final referee has shown himself to be a marvellous man - I'd like to count him among my friends" said Scolari.

"Greece are in the final on their own merits - we will look to play them in an atmosphere of friendship."





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