Webb defends handling of his ‘toughest game’
Dutch squad get a heroes reception as English referee defends his performance
The Dutch football squad returned home yesterday, chased out of South Africa by the acerbic assessment of the legendary Johan Cruyff, but nonetheless the hatchet men of world football were feted when they touched down in the Netherlands.
Queen Beatrix knighted team coach Bert van Marwijk and veteran captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst for their efforts in guiding Holland to their first World Cup final in 32 years, and later the squad had an audience with prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende. He told them they should be proud of their achievements in losing to Spain 1-0 in the final. "They were a strong team, mentally and physically," said Balkenende. "It was a team that was close and harmonious. It was a disciplined collective with a mission, with full resilience, fighting spirit and confidence."
But one man who might dispute the description of the Dutch as "disciplined" is referee Howard Webb, the Englishman who had the unfortunate task of officiating Sunday's final, the most violent in the 80-year history of the World Cup. Webb handed out 14 yellow cards and one red (all but five yellows being shown to the Dutch) as he fought to bring order to a torrid encounter. And despite criticism from the Dutch players and press, Webb says he believes he had a good game. "We felt satisfied that we'd done a tough job in difficult circumstances to the best of our abilities," he said as he arrived back in England yesterday. "It was an extremely challenging match to handle."
Webb, who was assisted in Sunday's match by linesmen Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey, made his comments in a statement released by the Premier League. "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.We don't feel that we had much choice except to manage the game in the way we did.
"From early on in the match we had to make decisions that were clear yellow cards."
Webb was the fourth Englishman to referee a World Cup final and he says he took into account the fact that the two teams would be feeling the strain because neither had ever won the trophy. "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. 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."
And despite the furore following Sunday's final,Webb – who celebrates his 39th birthday today – says he's returned from the tournament with nothing but happy 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." ·
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