Sunday, 29 October 2006

Blatter apologises for Italy win

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has further infuriated Italian fans by apologising to Australia for the Azzurri’s World Cup victory.

The second round match was goalless and heading for extra time following Marco Materazzi’s controversial straight red card when Fabio Grosso fell over a Lucas Neill challenge. Francesco Totti stepped up to convert the stoppage-time penalty with the last kick of the game on June 26 and send Italy on towards their eventual Final triumph.

Australian supporters were angry at the decision by Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo and the FIFA President stepped out of his official role to make a bizarre announcement.

“I agree with them and I would like to apologise to our fans in Australia,” said Blatter. “The Socceroos should have gone into the quarter-finals in place of Italy, because they were up to beating Italy.”

The Azzurri went unbeaten throughout the entire tournament, notching up four wins and two draws in the 90 minutes – seeing off Germany 2-0 in extra time and beating France on penalties in the Final.

Blatter had already caused controversy with his comments after the July 9 Berlin match by stating it was “a tragedy” to see the World Cup assigned on a shoot-out.

This was the second time the trophy had been decided this way, as in 1994 Italy lost to Brazil in Pasadena.

The FIFA President also failed to hand over the World Cup to Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro. He was in the stands, but UEFA President Lennart Johansson took these duties instead. It has never been clarified why the change was made.

"I think the referees were not at their best," continued Blatter. "I think they were too well prepared or not looked after the right way. They were in a military camp situation. And I think there was too much cheating on the players' side.”

Yet Italy also felt aggrieved by the refereeing in the Australia match, as Medina Cantalejo showed Materazzi a straight red card for a late, but by no means violent, tackle on midfielder Mark Bresciano.

The President had no time to apologise for the Azzurri's exit at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan...

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