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Shocked Italian fans blame referee

Disbelief on the faces of fans in Milan after the game
Disbelief on the faces of fans in Milan after the game  

ROME, Italy -- Italy was "robbed" of their chance to progress to the World Cup quarter-finals by the Ecuadorean referee, Italians say.

Italians from politicians to pubgoers have blamed the referee for their team's 2-1 exit against co-hosts South Korea on Tuesday. (Match Report)

Expectation had been high in Italy ahead of the game but the three-times World champions were knocked out by a Ahn Juhn-hwan golden goal in extra-time.

Usually the Italians come down hard on their team's perceived failures, but this time they accused the referee of being behind their downfall.

Byron Moreno was slammed for sending Italian hero Francesco Totti off and for disallowing an Italian goal in extra-time for off-side.

Franco Frattini, Italy's Minister for Public Offices, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying: "The referee was a disgrace, absolutely scandalous.

"I've never seen a game like it. It seemed as if they just sat around a table and decided to throw us out."

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Bruno Pizzul, Italy's most famous commentator told state television RAI immediately after the game: "Frankly, that was complete robbery."

Fans who had crammed Italian piazzas and cafes to watch the game were stunned by the defeat. They hugged each other in silence, or cried openly, inconsolably.

"I can't speak. I'm too sad," Carla Piermani, a university student, told The Associated Press.

Temperatures had reached more than 100 degrees in Rome. When the golden goal was scored, many fans kicked their water bottles in disgust and walked out of the square dejectedly.

Millions of people left work at lunch time to follow the game while travellers stopped in train stations or airports to catch the action on screens set up for them.

"I expected a victory, the pain is enormous," said 26-year old Rosalba Petrone, sitting with friends in Rome's gigantic Piazza del Popolo.

Fans react in Rome after Italy's exit
Fans react in Rome after Italy's exit  

"There is no justice in this world, especially with these referees."

Hundreds of fans in central Rome, seeing the game on a giant TV screen, chanted: "Death to the referee."

Italians have seen themselves the victim of alleged poor refereeing decisions throughout the tournament including four disallowed goals.

"Don't betray us," the main sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport yelled in a frontpage headline on Tuesday beneath a photo of the Italian squad.

But after the game la Repubblica's Web site said: "Hardest accusations for the arbitrage.

"Expelled Totti, cancelled one regular net to Tommasi."

It was an equalising goal from South Korea with two minutes to go that served as a further body blow to Italy.

Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni insisted his team deserved to beat South Korea.

"We had many more chances but Korea played with their heart," Trapattoni was reported by Reuters as saying. "It was a beautiful match but the winner should have been Italy."

Tears in Taejon's World Cup stadium after the golden goal
Tears in Taejon's World Cup stadium after the golden goal  

"Unfortunately, this World Cup for Italy started by going downhill. I've seen certain things which have penalised us. Today we played a good game.

"I'd say we're going out with our heads held high but with a lot to be bitter about.

"We had a player sent off -- I don't know why."

It was all in stark contrast to the exuberant celebrations in South Korea. The team's players led the way with a victory lap, joining arms in front of the main stand, jumping and diving in line. (Seoul Reaction)

The rest of the country quickly joined in the party spirit, chanting "Dae Han Min Guk" and "Republic of Korea," accompanied by a firework display.

The team's Dutch-born Guus Hiddink, who has been in charge of the team since last year, said: "I think it's unique what the Korean players have done here."




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