Sunday, June 22, 2008

Referee Webb Receives Death Threats from Polish Fans After Penalty Decision

Referee Howard Webb has received death threats on the internet after awarding Austria an injury-time penalty against Poland in last night's Euro 2008 Group B match. But Uefa have publicly backed the official's decision.

The controversial late penalty award, when Mariusz Lewandowski grabbed a handful of Sebastian Prodl's shirt and held on until they both tumbled to the deck, saw Poland lose a 1-0 lead seconds from the end against co-hosts Austria. The result means the Poles must now beat leaders Croatia in their final group game, and hope that Austria can get something out of their game against Germany. Otherwise they will be leaving their first European Championships early.

And English referee Howard Webb has become an overnight hate figure among Poles.

It is reported that football blog Soccerlens, for example, had to delete and close comments from a profile it ran on Webb, because, said the site: "The comments were full of hate and vitriol, aiming sexual abuse and death threats towards the English referee and claiming that Webb had taken bribes to give that penalty."

There are also several distinctly unpleasant anti-Webb videos on You Tube now.

However, the alternative view of Webb's action is that he took a brave and correct decision at an intense momemt of a high pressure match, and deserves appreciation for the long-overdue clamping down on one of the game's most pernicious and irritating traits: the pulling of opponents by the shirt at dead-ball situations.

Many referees would not have blown for the offence, but Webb did so.

And Uefa have backed him.

While Poland coach Leo Beenhakker was furious about the decision afterwards, Uefa's William Gaillard said: "We don't think it is controversial that a player is pulled down by the shirt and a penalty is given."

Gaillard, director of communications for the European governing body, added: "It [Webb's decision] was certainly within the laws of the game."

But Beenhakker, not surprisingly, insists the decision was incorrect, and complains that it has effectively knocked Poland out of Euro 2008.

"I've never had a problem in 43 years of being in football but this is something I cannot understand," he said. "It's impossible to accept but I am working on it. We don't have it in our own hands any more and the conclusion is we are out of the tournament."

Yet while Beenhakker also accused Webb of trying to prove he was a "big boy", Austria were unhappy with the English officials too because as Poland's goal appeared to be offside.

Uefa's disciplinary body may now take action against Beenhakker for his comments, while the referees' committee will decide if Webb and assistants Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey will take charge of another game at the tournament.

It would be bizarre if Webb were to be effectively punished for applying the laws of the game.

Gaillard said: "The referees' committee analyses all the games and makes the appointments according to its own analyses and we don't interfere with the way they are managing officials in this tournament.

"For sure there is a better chance to referee the final matches as his national team is not there but that is a statistical chance.

"I wouldn't speculate about the decisions of our referees' committee."