Injustice should lessen punishment says Hiddink

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The Independent Football

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink asked Uefa today to consider the "injustice" of his team's elimination from the Champions League when it decides whether to punish his players for their behavior toward the referee after the contentious Barcelona match.

Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack could be sanctioned for verbally attacking referee Tom Henning Ovrebo after the Norwegian waved off several penalty appeals before Barcelona scored a stoppage-time equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw.

The second-leg result sent the Spanish side to the Champions League final against Manchester United on away goals.

Chelsea received a measure of support today from Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who said referees for top matches must be full-time officials from top leagues.

Uefa has received both the referee's and delegate's report from the game and will review the Chelsea players' actions both during and after the final whistle at Stamford Bridge.

European football's governing body said today it will decide on possible sanctions "in the course of next week."

Drogba had to issue an apology after confronting the referee and swearing into a television camera after the final whistle. He received a yellow card and could be punished further by Uefa.

"I think you have to take into consideration the emotion of the injustice that was felt," Hiddink said Friday. "If they take measures it is up to them, but when people apologize for their behavior it is the first step made toward the normal things of life.

"I don't regret so easily something, but at that moment I said I could feel the reaction of the players when there is injustice. When you don't lose in a normal way we are sad."

Hiddink defended Drogba on Wednesday, and still sympathises with the Ivory Coast striker's furious, finger-jabbbing confrontation of the referee.

"He should not have reacted as he did, but I can understand some of the actions," Hiddink said. "When you felt injustice ... there is a very strong emotion to oppose."

Hiddink, who will leave Chelsea after a fourth-month temporary stint in charge at the end of May, said he believes Drogba has a future at Stamford Bridge.

The 62-year-old Dutchman said he did not discuss Drogba in a meeting with owner Roman Abramovich on Thursday.

"Of course he was disappointed," Hiddink said. "He said Chelsea did a very good performance and I agreed. We also have to be proud of the way Chelsea played at home against the best team in the world."

Hiddink rejected suggestions that Ovrebo was acting against his team to prevent a repeat of last season's all-English final.

"I don't think he had a preset mind to make big errors with big consequences for Chelsea," Hiddink said. "That's not his intention, I suppose. I'm sure."

Blatter, the head of world football, is concerned that a referee who spends most of his time in a smaller league and has a day job was allowed to officiate such a high-profile match.

"We must improve refereeing. Improving refereeing in professional football means it's time to have professional referees, and we should only use professional referees in high-level competitions," Blatter told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "This is one of the most important things, that refereeing is their profession, (that) this is their job. There will always be questions if the referee is good or not good. But I will say the future of our game is in the hands of the man with the whistle, because there is so much at stake, such as in this match."

Hiddink said his team is "rather deeply" hurt, but said it must not be a distraction as Chelsea looks to finish second in the Premier League and win the FA Cup final against Everton on 30 May.

On Sunday, the third-place Blues plays Arsenal, who are six points behind them.

"We have to try and get the smiles on the faces again and try to enjoy what we are good at and what we are proven to be good at," Hiddink said. "We have to look forward and be quietly proud of what we achieved over the two legs against Barcelona.

"We must be strong in our group again."