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   June 20, 2002 | 1830 IST


Umit Davala
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Blatter slams refs and Italian moaners

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter has launched a strong condemnation of refereeing at the World Cup, saying Italy had been the main victims on the way to their shock quarter-final elimination.

But he denied media allegations that FIFA had been part of a plot to oust Italy in favour of hosts South Korea, calling on the Italians to show dignity in defeat.

The head of soccer's ruling body also told Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he would demand changes in the way referees were selected in future, with the emphasis on ability rather than nationality.

Sepp Blatter "The refereeing has been the only negative aspect of this World Cup," Blatter said, replying to howls of protest in Italy over a string of controversial decisions which eventually saw them knocked out by South Korea on Tuesday.

"The (referees) have been quite good, but the (linesmen) have been a disaster, especially when it comes to offside...they haven't even realised that it is better to award an offside goal than to disallow a good goal."

Italy complained bitterly after they were knocked out, saying a string of mistakes by referees had combined to sink the three-times world champions.


The team had five goals controversially disallowed during their four matches and also had striker Francesco Totti sent off in the South Korea game for allegedly diving in the penalty area -- a decision that Blatter condemned.

"Sadly, and I have suffered greatly because of it, there have been exceptional circumstances and coincidences that saw many errors consecutively made against the same team, Italy," he said.

"Totti's sending off against Korea was neither a penalty nor a dive. A referee with a feeling (for the game) would not have shown him the card, bearing in mind the same player had already been booked."

The Ecuadorian referee, Byron Moreno, has defended the sending-off.

"I would do it again. I don't even have to watch the replays...Totti dived," he said in an interview with Il Messaggero newspaper published on Thursday.

Blatter told La Gazzetta: "A World Cup that receives the best players and teams in the world should be overseen by the best referees regardless of their nationality...from now on we will call in the best, full stop, even if they come from just a handful of countries."


But while accepting that Italy had been unlucky to be knocked out, he added: "Italy's elimination is not only down to referees and linesmen who made human not premeditated errors...Italy made mistakes both in defence and in attack.

"I call on Italian soccer to display some dignity and fair play because you can tell a great side more by the way it accepts defeat than by the way it handles victory."

Italy were not the only side unhappy with the refereeing, he said, saying Turkey, Slovenia, Spain, Belgium and Mexico had all complained.

On Thursday, however, Edgardo Codesal Mendez, a member of FIFA's referees' committee, defended the referees.

"We'll have to wait until the final to evaluate the whole tournament, but until now the referees in general have done a very good job," he said.

"They are human beings, they are not machines."

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