Ref faces World Cup red card after failing to brandish his own

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The Independent Football

Football referees, it is generally accepted, need a thick skin. Crowds can be unkind when a decision goes against their team. Players tend to scream abuse at point-blank range after a perceived injustice.

A referee must be able withstand the brickbats and insults. But as poor Graham Poll discovered yesterday, when the whole world starts laughing at you, it's time to leave the pitch and go home.

In a farcical episode unprecedented in World Cup history, Mr Poll, 42, while refereeing a crucial 2-2 draw between Croatia and Australia on Thursday night, brandished the yellow card three times at the rugged Croatian defender Josip Simanic. The regulations of Fifa, the game's world governing body, say that two yellows warrant a red card and expulsion. But Mr Poll, unaccountably, forgot his first attempt to discipline the unruly Croat.

As confusion reigned, Simanic was finally shown red after the final whistle, having uniquely received four cards in one match.

Television audiences around the world marvelled at such high-profile chaos, but condemnation from Mr Poll's peers yesterday was swift and savage.

"He should be put on the first plane back home" said Clive Thomas, a former referee. "They gave him two easy games to start with and the third was a tougher one. And, as ever, when the chips are down, he loses control - he goes berserk, he totally loses it. I could see something like this coming and the incident with the three yellow cards was a disaster for him - that was pathetic refereeing."

When Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, was asked whether he expected Mr Poll to be told to pack his bags, his response was withering: "I trust our referees committee to have that much tact," said Blatter. "A mistake like that should not happen, especially when you have four people [referee and assistant referees] wired up. It can't be excused."

Mr Poll, who had been tipped as a contender to officiate in the final, was in talks with senior Fifa officials yesterday in an attempt to avoid an early exit. But during quiet moments, he was no doubt pondering how he could have had such a brainstorm, despite efforts by Australia's Mark Viduka to remind him that he had lost count. "I was sure it was his second [yellow]," said Viduka. "I said how many is that and he said one."

The Simanic fiasco was not the only blot on Mr Poll's performance. Television replays showed the official apparently missing two obvious penalty appeals and issuing several other questionable cards.

For a referee whose CV includes the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2000 and some of the most combustible Premiership matches - in which his frequent smile is as common a sight as the runs of Thierry Henry - Thursday night was an unmitigated disaster.

The issue of whether the first or third yellow card will stand will be considered over the weekend by Fifa's refereeing committee. As for Poll, he is not among the officials already chosen for later stages from the starting line of 23. The deadline for the final list to be declared is on Sunday, 48 hours before the final match of the first knock-out stage.

As bookmakers' odds on Mr Poll staying at the tournament lengthened to 10-1, he may take some meagre satisfaction that neither coach involved in Thursday's match is calling for his head. In fact Australia and Birmingham midfielder Stan Lazaridis backed the beleagured official, saying: "Graham Poll is a good referee and I really hope he gets another go."

Amid all the controversy (and merriment), one person who may be ambivalent about the outcome is Julia Poll, the referee's wife who has stayed at home in Tring, Hertfordshire. On their 14th wedding anniversary on 13 June, her husband was running the Togo versus South Korea game in Frankfurt. "She's not seeing me anyway for six weeks so it doesn't make a lot of difference to her" Mr Poll said at the time. "We would have been watching a match [on television] anyway." In all probability, the view from the sofa will indeed be the limit of Mr Poll's future involvement with the 2006 World Cup.