- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

BERLIN — Another match, another red card, another refereeing controversy.

It’s becoming a trend at the World Cup.

The record stream of red and yellow cards mounted yesterday, hours after the sport’s top official gave his own caution to a referee for being overzealous and inconsistent.

Italy was reduced to 10 men in the 51st minute of the second-round match against Australia when Marco Materazzi was sent off for bringing down Marco Bresciano just outside the penalty area. That raised the number of red cards to 24 from 53 matches.

The previous mark was 22 from 64 matches in 1998 at France.

The Italians persevered, and in the last seconds of injury time, left back Fabio Grosso beat one defender and went down under a challenge by Lucas Neill almost within touching distance of the goal.

Spanish referee Luis Medina immediately pointed to the penalty spot, under desperate protests from the Australians who claimed that Grosso dived.

The decision, certain to be heavily dissected and debated, stood. Unfazed, Francesco Totti drove a penalty kick past goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and the Italians advanced to the quarterfinals.

Medina issued the direct red card and six cautions, raising the total of yellow cards to 297 for the tournament, surpassing any previous World Cup.

That was a lot fewer than Valentin Ivanov’s record-tying 16 yellow cards and unprecedented four reds handed out in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Netherlands the previous night.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter criticized Ivanov’s handling in a frank assessment to a Portuguese TV station.

“I think there could have been a yellow card for the referee,” Blatter said.

Portugal captain Luis Figo was lucky to escape ejection, getting a yellow card for a skirmish with Mark van Bommel when TV replays clearly showed him head-butting the Dutch player in the 58th minute — a red card offense.

FIFA communications director Markus Siegler said yesterday the disciplinary committee would not review the incident because Ivanov had taken action, on the field, on advice from his linesman.

Figo “was sanctioned immediately by the referee,” he said. “The referee’s report came in last night and is being analyzed by the relevant people. But it is very unlikely anything will happen as he has been sanctioned already on the spot.”

Siegler refused to expand on Blatter’s stinging criticism of Ivanov’s performance, saying — in German — “you might have seen the FIFA president made a comment. There is nothing more to add.”

Ivanov set the tone with some early cautions for incidents that would have been overlooked in most league competitions.

And once Portugal scored the only goal in the 23rd-minute winner from Maniche, Ivanov struggled to deal with mounting tension and the loss of sportsmanship on both sides.

“This was a game of emotion, with exceptional drama in the last instant, with a deserved winner,” Blatter said. “But it was a great show with intervention by the referee that was not consistent, and had a lack of fair play by some players.”

The FIFA referees committee will meet tomorrow to decide which officials stay after the second round. Already they’re likely to be without experienced English referee Graham Poll, who issued three yellow cards to the same Croatia player — two yellow cards should immediately be followed by a red. That technical error could have resulted in a first-round match with Australia being replayed.

Markus Merk, an early favorite to handle the final if host Germany does not make it, also dented his chances with a highly criticized performance in the Brazil-Australia first-round match.

Responding to questions about referees adhering to instructions from FIFA and not being allowed enough discretion, Siegler repeated earlier comments.

“It’s not about instructions being given,” he said. “They’re reiterated because this is the biggest platform to show the consistent application of the laws of the game.”

After the first round, Siegler said the World Cup had been wide open, with offensive flair, and rejected the notion that the extraordinarily high number of cautions was a paradox.

“You could say if the referees were not active, it could have turned out into a more unfair or dirty tournament,” he said. “I’m convinced that because the referee is applying rules consistently and the players have been warned from the beginning,” the tournament has been “quite fair.”

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