Uefa backs Webb but Polish fury unabated
Saturday 14 June 2008
On the record, Uefa yesterday backed Howard Webb, the English referee whose controversial injury-time penalty award led to co-hosts Austria snatching a 1-1 draw with Poland on Thursday. Off the record, Webb and his team of assistants will have to wait to see if they are to get a second match at Euro 2008 as the appointments for the quarter-finals are not expected until early next week.
Polish anger at Webb's decision to penalise Mariusz Lewandowski for holding Sebastian Prodl was so extreme the country's prime minister yesterday admitted he wanted "to kill" the South Yorkshire policeman. Leo Beenhakker, Poland's coach, was less extreme, but accused Webb of wanting "to show he is a big boy". Beenhakker did not deny some grappling was probably going on, but questioned why it was only in the tournament's 12th game that a defender was punished for such a commonplace offence.
William Gaillard, Uefa's director of communications, said: "We don't think it is controversial that a player is pulled down by the shirt and a penalty is given. The decision was certainly within the laws. You saw that the free-kick was taken twice, that there was a lot of wrestling in the area. It may be that he could see this particular foul was worse than the rest of the game.
"The referees' committee analyses all the games and makes the appointments according to its own analyses and we don't interfere with the way they are managing officials in this tournament. For sure, there is a better chance to referee the final matches as his national team is not there, but that is a statistical chance. I wouldn't speculate about the decisions of our referees' committee."
Polish leader Donald Tusk said: "As the prime minister I have to be balanced and collected, but last night I was speaking very differently about the whole thing, I wanted to kill. Referees make mistakes and this was an obvious error that harmed us all."
The Polish sports minister, who was also at the game, Miroslaw Drzewiecki, said: "It's a disgrace for the championships and the referee is a fraud."
The result has left Austria dreaming of a repeat of their 1978 World Cup defeat of West Germany in Cordoba, a result they must repeat on Monday to progress, as long as Poland do not do better against Croatia.
Current Austria coach Josef Hickersberger played in the 1978 tie which Austria won 3-2 through an own-goal by Berti Vogts and two goals by Hans Krankl.
The result knocked West Germany out of the World Cup and the German newspaper Bild even published the Austrian striker's phone number so readers could complain.
"I changed it very quickly," said Krankl this week. "It was crazy."
Hickersberger said: "A victory 30 years ago doesn't mean anything to me whatsoever. A victory in Cordoba is long over and done with." But striker Martin Harnik, who missed two one-on-ones against Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc, said: "If we can take better advantage of our chances, Germany will be in trouble."
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