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Blatter defends under-fire Webb

FIFA president Sepp Blatter today said English referee Howard Webb had a "very hard task" in last night's bad-tempered World Cup final between Spain and Holland that saw a record 14 yellow cards shown.

In a record for a final, Webb booked 13 different players - John Heitinga was shown two yellows followed by a red - in a fiery encounter that saw Andres Iniesta's extra-time goal secure a 1-0 win for Spain.

Blatter said: "The final was not exactly what I expected in terms of fair play.

"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 not easy, really not easy and they were really not helped in this task I can say."

Blatter refused to comment on the rugged approach by Holland, who eventually lost 1-0 in extra time.

He told a news conference in Johannesburg: "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.

"I will not make any comment but we always say football is 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."

Blatter was asked whether Webb should have shown a red card to Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, and replied: "In football we have to live with the errors of players, and of referees. I don't think perfection exists in this world."

Asked why England had performed badly in the tournament, Blatter said: "You will have to ask the Football Association. England is considered as being the motherland of football, as Brazil is the heartbeat of football, but there are no small national teams any more.

"There are small countries but their national teams are very strong as football has developed."

Blatter did praise Spain for playing "good football" and gave South Africa nine out 10 for their organisation of the finals.

He added: "I have to compliment the winners - the Spanish national team, La Roja.

"Finally we had a winner playing good football and maybe from a technical point of view there are maybe some questions but it's the (coach) who decides 'do we play to win or do we play not lose' and this will decide on whether we have spectacular or non-spectacular games."

The FIFA president apologised to England and Mexico for refereeing mistakes earlier on in the tournament - over Frank Lampard's disallowed goal and a Carlos Tevez header against Mexico that was blatantly offside - but he refused to extend that to Ireland for the Thierry Henry handball that led to France winning the qualifying play-off.

He said: "This was a case that has happened in a preliminary competition and now we are at the end of the World Cup, and it is odious to reopen discussions.

"A goal was not given in a match between England and Germany and it went all around the world, it was like a cry, an alarm that something very, very important has happened.

"It was said 'will you reopen the file of technology?' and I have said 'yes - goal-line technology will be looked at again by the International FA Board', but only goal-line technology."

In terms of the success of the tournament Blatter said he was "more than happy".

"Big compliments to South Africa and the people of South Africa, and to the government for all the guarantees they have given and met for the organisation of this World Cup, and to the local organising committee," he said.

"The wonderful hospitality given by the people was something very great.

"Africa have proved they can organise this World Cup and can organise a big competition. We trusted South Africa and with our trust they got their confidence and they should be proud."