Wed, Nov 01, 2006 - Page 18 News List

FIFA boss denies criticizing Italy

PLAYERS' ANTICS Sepp Blatter denied accusing the world champions of cheating in an interview with an Aussie TV station on a trip Down Under

AFP , ZURICH

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has denied making comments to the Australian media disparaging World Cup winners Italy for their tactics in the last 16 round game against Australia.

Blatter was quoted as saying that Australia should have played in the quarter-finals instead of eventual champions Italy.

Australia's players and fans were outraged when Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo awarded Italy a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time of their quarter-final after Lucas Neill had brought down Fabio Grosso.

Substitute Francesco Totti converted the penalty to give 10-man Italy a dramatic 1-0 win and a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Raging debate

Debate raged over the decision and world governing body FIFA was accused of not addressing the problem of diving and faking injuries in the world game.

In the television interview with SBS Television on Sunday, Blatter said referees at this year's cup finals "were not at their best".

He said the antics of players was the real problem for the game.

"I think there was too much cheating on the players' side," Blatter said in the interview.

"I agree with them and I would like to apologize [to] our fans in Australia.

`Presumptuous'

"The Socceroos should have gone into the quarter-finals in place of Italy ... you go into extra time and you are 11 against 10. But that is presumptuous."

FIFA insisted that Blatter had in no way intended to criticize the Italian team, their players or their tactics.

"With my statement I simply wanted to pay credit to the Socceroos as well because they played a great match and their lack of experience did not permit them to go to extra-time," he said.

The FIFA statement also quoted Les Murray, the editorial supervisor of SBS Sport, as saying that at no time in it did Blatter make any "inappropriate comment" about the Italy versus Australia match.

"The topic as to whether the controversial penalty kick awarded to Italy in the last moments of the game was justified or not never even came up during the course of our interview," Murray said.

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