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Page last updated at 16:33 GMT, Monday, 12 July 2010 17:33 UK

World Cup 2010: Webb faced 'hard task' says Blatter

Nigel De Jong lunges at Xabi Alonso

De Jong sees yellow for 'Kung-Fu' tackle

Fifa president Sepp Blatter believes English referee Howard Webb had a "very hard task" in controlling Spain's World Cup final win over Netherlands.

Webb has been criticised after booking 13 players and sending off Dutchman Johnny Heitinga in a fractious game.

Blatter said: "It's not up to me judge the performances of the officials.

"I can only say it was a very hard task that the referee trio had on the field of play. It was really not easy and they were not helped in this task."

Webb has come under fire from both Spanish and Dutch camps with the new World Cup winners citing he was not strict enough on their opponents and Netherlands arguing that he was more harsh with them than on Spain.

Sepp Blatter, FIFA President

Fifa president Blatter praises Africa

Asked about the tough approach of Netherlands, Blatter did say "the side that played football won".

He added: "Even though I have seen all the irregularities as a spectator, I cannot answer this question as president of Fifa.

"I could answer it as a fan of football but I am here as president.

"Football is a school of life because it is based on discipline and respect. It's a combat game but in the spirit of fair play.

"You have to learn to win and you have to learn to lose, and should not forget the basis which is discipline and respect."

Webb, 38, brandished nine yellow cards to the Dutch, including the two to dismiss Heitinga, and has been criticised by Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk.

You've got the best competition, the best players, really you need the best referees

Dermot Gallagher

He was booed by the Dutch fans when he collected his medal at the end of the game but former Premier League referees, including Graham Poll, have come out in defence of Webb for his handling of an incident-packed game.

"He had one of the toughest games he's ever had but I don't think his career is in tatters, like some are saying," said former referee Dermot Gallagher.

"I think any referee would have had a monumental task in that match."

Former Premier League and World Cup referee Poll, speaking to BBC Radio Four's Today Programme, added: "I thought he did very well in very testing circumstances.

"He chose to do it his way, which I think made it a better game. Had he chosen to step in and apply the laws strictly, which hasn't been done the whole World Cup to be fair to Howard, we could have ended up with probably eight Dutch players on the pitch.

"As it's a World Cup final I'd give his performance a nine [out of 10]."

The Dutch adopted an aggressive approach to the game in an attempt to break up Spain's passing game and were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men in the first half when midfielder Nigel de Jong planted a raised boot in the chest of Spanish counterpart Xabi Alonso.

This, and a number of other heavy tackles during the match, led to angry protests from the Spain players, a mood that was reflected in the Spanish media on Monday morning.

Newspaper El Mundo Deportivo said: "Holland were able to count on an unexpected ally: referee Howard Webb, who allowed the Dutch to get away with brutal fouls time and time again."


This is a viewpoint shared by Marca, who launched a scathing attack on the official, saying: "Webb is a narcissist who needs a quota of protagonism which doesn't correspond to him, a bad referee yesterday and almost always.

"He even handed out the cards equally until the situation was beyond repair. He was on the verge of destroying the final."

Gallagher, though, feels that Webb was unsighted for De Jong's challenge and that any leniency he showed in the first half was as a result of wanting to preserve the game as a contest.

"I looked at that [De Jong's challenge] and immediately thought it was a red card but when you look at it again, Howard was covered by Alonso's body so I don't think he realised how high [his foot] was," said Gallagher.

"But there were all kinds of tackles, you could pick any: Van Bommel was all over the place, Sneijder was kicking people. I've never seen a Dutch side play like that.

"When you look back, it's easy to say 'he should have done this' but whatever he did, he was damned if he did, damned if he didn't, because people talk about nine Dutchmen on the field at half-time, and everyone would then have condemned the referee and said he'd ruined the final.

"He has gone into what is billed as the most prestigious game in his career and always will be, and he has come out knowing it was probably the toughest game of his career and always will be."

The Netherlands' main point of contention with Webb was what they perceived as an error on the part of the official in the build-up to Spain's winning goal.

With the teams facing a penalty shoot-out as the game was drawing to a close, Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta smashed in a half-volley - which ultimately won the game - leaving the Dutch incensed after Webb had failed to award their side a corner moments earlier when a Sneijder free-kick took a deflection off Cesc Fabregas.

There were also protests that substitute Dutch winger Elijero Elia had been fouled in the move that led to the goal-kick.

"I didn't think it was a foul," said Gallagher. "Players aren't obliged to step aside and let people through.

Howard Webb (left) is spoken to by Bert van Marwijk
Nethrlands coach Bert van Marwijk (right) speaks with Webb after Sunday's game

"Without doubt, the Dutch guy tried to go through a gap which was much too small for him. I thought it was a fair shout. If that was in the penalty area, the Dutch wouldn't have been happy if that had been given against them. It's sod's law they've gone up the other end and scored from it."

Webb was awarded control of the World Cup final - the first Englishman since Jack Taylor in 1974 to be bestowed the honour - following his impressive handling of his three previous games, in which he showed 17 yellow cards.

The Yorkshireman was widely praised for his player-management skills during a tense match in Group F earlier in the competition, when Slovakia eliminated 2006 World Cup winners Italy courtesy of a 3-2 victory.

The World Cup has contained a number of high-profile refereeing errors, which have prompted Fifa to acquiesce to calls to review the current system for officials.

England midfielder Frank Lampard had a goal ruled out in the 4-1 defeat by Germany when the ball had clearly crossed the line and Carlos Tevez's opening goal in Argentina's 3-1 win over Mexico was allowed to stand despite the striker being offside.

Gallagher feels that the tournament in South Africa has highlighted the inconsistency provided by less experienced referees.

"It's been a very mixed bag to be honest," added Gallagher. "I think the next World Cup it'll be interesting to see if rather than go politically and say we're going to have so many referees from each confederation, whether they'll take the stance that even if it means three from the Premier League, three from Brazil, so be it because you've got the best competition, the best players, really you need the best referees.

"The smaller nations… they were over-exposed. Referees from Mali, the Seychelles. They're not doing top-level football. There's enough tournaments around the world at under-21 level etc to learn the trade. At this level, you've got to have the referees that are professional."

Iker Casillas lifts the World Cup for Spain

Highlights - Netherlands 0-1 Spain

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see also
Webb's final refereeing backed
14 Jul 10 |  People and Places
Dutch coach condemns referee Webb
12 Jul 10 |  World Cup 2010
Fifa to make refereeing changes
08 Jul 10 |  World Cup 2010
Webb to referee World Cup final
09 Jul 10 |  World Cup 2010
Fifa evades technology questions
28 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Fifa offers no comment on ref blunders
28 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Highlights - Germany 4-1 England
27 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Mexico coach Aguirre rues errors
27 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Team tracker and Predictor
27 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup venues
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010

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Mail & Guardian Online No regrets, says World Cup final ref Webb - 2 hrs ago