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Portugal-Netherlands: Once Again, Ref Ruins Game

The reaction from the press is unanimous: yesterday was a black day for World Cup soccer. No less than 16 yellow cards and four dismissals tainted what could have been a classic round-of-16 encounter between the Netherlands and Portugal. Instead, as LA Times reporter Grahame L. Jones says, "Disgrace is the better fit." Is the disgrace, then, the fault of players like Portugal's Luis Figo, who felt necessary to express himself by head-butting an opponent behind the ref's back, or Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz, who slapped his opponent in the face prior to being sent off himself? Or did the Russian match officials, referee Valentin Ivanov and his assistants Nikolav Golubev and Evgueni Volnin, play their part, too, in this so-called disgrace? "Ivanov was atrocious. Pitiful," Jones says flatly. No World Cup game in history has ever featured four red cards. Yesterday's game also has the dubious distinction of tying an all-time high for yellow cards, 16roughly equating to a card every six minutes. Sadly, for FIFA, this World Cup, like many others, will be remembered as having been decided by referees, the so-called "best match officials in the world," according to FIFA President Sepp Blatter. There's a laundry list of memorable bad calls: two harsh send-offs in USA-Italy match, a terrible penalty decision saw off the U.S. against Ghana, France denied a clear second goal against South Korea, Argentina denied no less than three clear goals due to bad offside calls, which have been abundant, and don't forget Graham Poll handing three yellow cards to the same player. As for last night, "It's a pity that the referee made a mess of this game," Marco Van Basten, the Dutch coach said. "I don't want to say too hard, but in the end I think you can say it because it was just a mess." Just about everyone seems to agree.

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