I did my best in extremely challenging final, says Webb

Players left English referee 'no choice' but to issue record number of cards in World Cup showpiece
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English referee Howard Webb said yesterday he had no regrets over his handling of Sunday's World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, which he described as "extremely challenging".

The Yorkshireman arrived home from South Africa yesterday with his assistants Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey to a barrage of media interest in their performance in the final at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Webb has come in for criticism from both the Dutch and Spanish camps after he handed out 14 yellow cards and sent off the Netherlands' Everton defender John Heitinga during Spain's fractious 1-0 win.

"Whatever the match, you always hope that the officials won't need to be heavily involved. However, we had to raise our profile in order to keep control," Webb said in a statement released through the Premier League last night.

"We don't feel that we had much choice except to manage the game in the way we did. We came away feeling satisfied that we'd done a tough job in difficult circumstances to the best of our abilities. It was an extremely challenging match to handle, but it would have been so for any referee. It is one of the toughest games we will ever be involved in and we feel that we worked hard to keep the focus on the football as much as possible."

The Dutch players have been widely criticised for their behaviour during the final, during which Bert van Marwijk's side committed a rash of heavy- handed challenges.

The Dutch were fortunate not to lose midfielder Nigel de Jong to a straight red card in the first half for a high challenge on Xabi Alonso. But, despite Webb's leniency on that occasion, his performance nevertheless incensed the Dutch, and he was confronted by several players after the final whistle.

"From early on in the match we had to make decisions that were clear yellow cards," Webb added. "We tried to apply some common sense officiating, given the magnitude of the occasion for both sides – advising players early on for some of their tackling, sending players away when they were surrounding the officials, and speaking to their senior colleagues to try to calm them down."

Despite the furore that has followed the game, Webb insists he has come away from South Africa harbouring "amazing memories.

"It was a marvellous honour to have been selected for the tournament and we had a wonderful six weeks in South Africa," he said. "The people made us feel really welcome and we've hugely enjoyed the experience of being involved in such an incredible and unique event. We left the 2010 World Cup with amazing memories.

"We have been overwhelmed by the support of the public, the media, friends, colleagues, players and managers before and after the final. It was a massive honour and privilege to take charge of the World Cup final. It is something every referee dreams of and to fulfil that dream was a remarkable feeling."

People within the English game have been quick to leap to the defence of the 39-year-old Rotherham official amid the fallout from the game, and Webb himself has no concerns about the overall display of his team. "Mike and Darren made some terrific calls and I thought the decisions made by my team throughout the tournament were excellent," Webb said.

Mike Riley, the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials and a former Premier League official, criticised the two sides for disrespecting the laws of the game and praised Webb's handling of the situation.

"The final was without doubt one of the most difficult games Howard will have ever refereed," Riley said. "On far too many occasions during the match the players showed little respect for the laws of the game and showed scant regard for the spirit of the game."

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