The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, last night came to the defence of referee Howard Webb after the English official faced a barrage of criticism from the Netherlands and Spain for his performance in Sunday's World Cup final.
Scudamore, a class one qualified referee himself, whose organisation oversees the development of referees at the elite level said: "It was an extremely difficult game to referee. Thank goodness it was Howard who was refereeing it."
Webb, 38, who showed 14 yellow cards and one red in Spain's win, was heavily criticised by Dutch players including Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. He has also come under attack from Johan Cruyff and yesterday was given only the most meagre of defences from Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, who said only that the players had made it a "hard task" for Webb.
However, analysis of the game showed that Webb made fewer errors than he was accused of by the Dutch contingent. While he should have dismissed Nigel de Jong for a kick to the chest of Xabi Alonso in the first half, he was correct to let Spain's winning goal for Andres Iniesta stand. Dutch allegations that the goal-kick he mistakenly gave to Spain in the second period of time led to Iniesta's goal were not borne out by replays.
Scudamore had on Friday declared the appointment of Webb as a triumph for the Professional Game Match Officials Limited organisation, the body in charge of Premier League officials. The former referee Mike Riley, the general manager of PGMOL, is expected to defend Webb's performance today.
Webb, along with his assistants Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey, spent yesterday in a debriefing session with Fifa officials. They are expected to return home to Britain today.
The former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher also staged a defence of Webb. Gallagher said that Webb was in a "no-win situation". He had been criticised for not sending off De Jong but would have come in for similar flak if he had dished out red cards.
Gallagher told Sky Sports News: "He will never, ever, if he lives to be 100, referee a tougher match. I've never seen a referee put under so much pressure, I've never seen a team employ so much bully-boy tactics and the way they [Netherlands] harangued him at the end was absolutely disgraceful to be honest.
"If you take the De Jong tackle out – I thought that was a red card – other than that I don't think he's got much to really look back in anger at himself for, because he's gone out, he's been tested to the absolute limit.
"It's a long, long time since I've seen a referee put under so much pressure. I listened to the pundits at half-time who said Netherlands should be down to nine men. It's all well and good saying that but if they were down to nine men I think we'd have the other stories: 'The referee's ruined the game'. He was in a totally non-win situation."
The most outspoken criticism of Webb came from Robben who questioned the legitimacy of Webb to referee the game. He said: "If you play a World Cup final, you need a world class referee. I don't know whether today was a world class performance from the referee."
Although replays showed that Robben's claim to have been fouled by Carles Puyol when he ran on goal in the 83rd minute were by no means clear cut, Robben claimed that the English referee should have dismissed Puyol. He said: "He has to send him off. He has to give a free-kick. It was 10 minutes before the end. If you score a goal there you can win the game. In the end I couldn't move any more and the goalkeeper was too close. I couldn't score."
The former Dutch international Cruyff accused his countrymen of adopting an "anti-football" approach with their uncompromising style to stop the Spanish playing. He too was critical of Webb for not dismissing De Jong and Robben. Cruyff said: "Not only did he not send off two Dutchmen but he also looked the other way at times when he should have involved himself."
Blatter ducked the question of Webb's performance, only saying yesterday that no one could be expected to be perfect. He said: "You have to have the human aspect of the game. This game is not controlled by science. This is football. You have to live with errors of players and referees. Perfection does not exist in this world.
"It's not up to me to judge the performance of the officials and match control. I can only say it was a very hard task that the refereeing trio had on the field of play. It was really not easy. They were not helped in this task."
Final analysis: how good were Webb's key decisions?
15 minutes: Van Persie slides in on Capdevila, brings him down. Second foul from Van Persie, Webb books him. Verdict: Correct
16 min: Puyol commits first Spanish foul of the match on Robben. Studs slightly raised. He goes in the book. Verdict: Correct
22 min (left): Van Bommel goes through the back of Iniesta, bringing up a third yellow card. Verdict: Correct
23 min: Ramos trips Kuyt on right to earn a booking. Verdict: Correct
28 min: De Jong boot in chest of Alonso as he heads the ball. He's booked. Verdict: Should have been a red card
42 min: Sneijder studs up on the thigh of Busquets. Free-kick Spain Verdict: Should have been a booking
54 min: Van Bronckhorst pulls down Ramos and is shown the yellow card. Verdict: Correct
57 min: Heitinga takes out Villa after ball is played. Yellow card. Verdict: Correct
67 min: Capdevila catches ankle of Van Persie. Webb books him. Verdict: Correct
73 min: Heitinga late on Iniesta. Free-kick Spain but no second yellow for Heitinga. Verdict: Correct
75 min: Sneijder foul on Ramos. The 31st free-kick of the game. No booking. Verdict: Correct
78 min: Van Bommel stamps on Iniesta. No free-kick. Verdict: Should have been a free-kick and second yellow/ red card.
78 min: Iniesta retaliation. No action from Webb. Verdict: Webb should have booked Iniesta
83 min: Robben breaks through middle. Puyol has his arm around Robben's midriff but Puyol lets arm slide off as Robben accelerates. Robben stays on his feet (through no fault of his own, Webb behind play and cannot see arm) Play on. Verdict: Correct
84 min: Robben booked for dissent. Verdict: Correct
First period of extra time
92 min: Scramble in Netherlands box. De Jong tackle on Iniesta outside area. Penalty appeal. Play on. Verdict: Correct
92 min: Xavi prepares to strike, kicks boot of Heitinga then trips himself up. Penalty appeal. Play on. Verdict: Correct
97 min: Van Bommel foul on Xavi. Xavi appeals for card. Free-kick Spain. Verdict: Correct
Second period of extra time
109 min: Xavi tackle on Robben – appeal. Play on. Verdict: Correct
109 min: Heitinga pulls down Iniesta and is sent off after being shown a second yellow card. Verdict: Correct
111 min: Van der Wiel fouls Iniesta. Yellow card. Verdict: Correct
113 min: Robben puts ball in net after whistle. No booking. Verdict: Correct
115 min: Sneijder free-kick deflected off Fabregas, also touched by Casillas. Goal-kick. Verdict: Webb should have awarded a corner
116 min: Elia runs into Ramos outside area (left). Appeal for penalty. Play on. Verdict: Webb should have been a free-kick to Netherlands
116 min: Iniesta GOAL. Iniesta was in an offside position when Torres played initial ball that was intercepted by Van der Vaart. But Iniesta did not become "involved in active play". He was onside when Fabregas passed to him for the goal. Play on. Verdict: Correct
117 min: Mathijsen is booked for throwing the ball away. Verdict: Correct
118 min: Iniesta removes his shirt. Yellow card. Verdict: Correct
120+1 min: Xavi booked for dissent. Verdict: Correct
De Jong: I was lucky not to be sent off
Nigel de Jong has admitted he was fortunate to stay on the field after his kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final. The referee Howard Webb showed the Dutch midfielder a yellow card for his high tackle, but the Manchester City player has said it could easily have been red.
"Yes, I was concerned it might be worse than a yellow," said De Jong. "It looked worse although, to be honest, I didn't see the opponent coming in from the side. I was really focused on the ball and I caught him on his chest. It was a bit curious but he gave the yellow card, so for me it was a little bit of luck."
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