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Our top AR Hector Vergara being criticized by Liverpool fans.

Cdn. official criticizes Benitez


TORONTO (CP) - A top Canadian soccer official has criticized Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez over derogatory comments about the performance of a Canadian assistant referee in the final at FIFA's Club World Championship.

And Winnipeg's Hector Vergara, the assistant referee in question, says he stands by his decisions last Sunday in Yokohama, Japan.

Vergara, considered Canada's top on-field official, said he knew he was "100 per cent" right at the time he made the calls, a view backed up by subsequent review of the game video since returning home.

Despite outplaying their Brazilian opponents, Liverpool was beaten 1-0 by Sao Paulo. Three Liverpool goals were called off by Vergara for offside during the match, which was refereed by Mexico's Benito Armando Archundia.

"You wouldn't get a Mexican referee and a Canadian linesman in the final of the World Cup," Benitez said after the match.

Such comments are offensive to Canadians, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association said Tuesday.

"It is an insult," Kevan Pipe said from Ottawa. "And in fact I was quite offended when I saw the comment.

"It's a very unfortunate comment. And I don't think in retrospect he (Benitez) would probably go forward and say that again," Pipe added. "Hector has been called upon on multiple occasions to do World Cup qualifying throughout the continent. He's had numerous appointments to many world championships."

Vergara worked the third-place game at the 2002 World Cup.

Irate Liverpool fans, some profanely, vented their anger on Vergara on the assistant referee's blog hosted by the Manitoba Soccer Association.

"How much money did Sao Paulo give you to keep putting your flag up in their favour?" said one anonymous post.

Other fans apologized for the rude responses.

Still a trip to Liverpool may be ill-advised for Vergara in the next little while.

In its game report, the Liverpool Daily Post referred to a "flag-happy Canadian linesman" and "an official who resembled Mr. Magoo."

Added the Liverpool Echo: "As for Benitez, his sleepless nights will be haunted by the image of Canadian assistant referee Hector Vergara." The decision to flag a last-minute goal by Florent Sinama-Pongolle was "shocking," according to the paper.

The Daily Telegraph was more restrained in its reporting but said the Sinama-Pongolle goal was wrongly whistled.

The Times was even more even-handed, saying two of the goals were correctly disallowed and the third "could be described as marginal."

Still, Liverpool midfielder Luis Garcia said he felt cheated while Benitez raised the officiating with FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Reached in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Vergara calmly dismissed the criticism.

The officials' calls had been reviewed by the referees' committee as well as the referees' committee president and assessors at the game. All "confirmed the decisions were accurate," Vergara said.

"I can see his frustration, the team dominated the game but unfortunately they didn't put the ball in the back of the net when they were supposed to. That's not the referee's responsibility or fault," he added.

The Liverpool Echo saw it differently.

"If Liverpool's finishing was at fault for the first 89 minutes of frustration in the (penalty) box, Vergara must accept responsibility for the most soul-destroying moment of all."

Vergara said he reviewed the video himself Monday night "frame by frame."

"And I stand strongly behind my decisions . . . The evidence is there if he (Benitez) wants to take the time to review it frame by frame like I did and make a decision then.

"Is it close? Absolutely. Absolutely. In games like this, calls like that offside are always going to be tight. But that's why we're there. We're trying to do the very best job we can and I think we did that."

As for Benitez referring to him by nationality, Vergara said managers "have the right to disagree with us, just like we may not like the tactics they use."

Vergara, who doubles as chief administrative officer of the Manitoba Soccer Association, has a blue-chip soccer resume. He worked six matches at the 2002 World Cup, also officiated at the Athens Olympics and was an assistant at the final of the 2005 Gold Cup and a string of 2006 World Cup qualifying matches.

Vergara he said he will continue to work towards selection for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The Canadian official is normally teamed with a Guatemalan referee and Mexican assistant referee but the Guatemalan was replaced by Archundia in Japan when he twisted his knee. Vergara and Archundia have worked together before, including the Argentina-Italy Olympic semifinal last year.

Other than former Canadian referee Sonia Denoncourt, now working for FIFA as head of its women's referee development program, "if there's one other official that we've had who's really ascended to the highest level of the game, it has been Hector Vergara," Pipe said.

Adding to Liverpool's sense of injustice was the lopsided nature of the game. The English team outshot the Brazilians 21-4 and had 17 corners to none for Sao Paulo.

Copyright © 2005, Canoe Inc. All rights reserved.

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Seen the highlights on the television and they all looked good calls to me. The last one might have gone either way though, and often will but Hector was spot on for those 1st two. What a prick, doing a competant job and all.

But still, just because you couldn't beat the offside trap, or (more appropriately maybe) manage to stay onside it doesn't mean you're entitled to the 50/50 calls. Tough break if you don't get them. But if you're looking for a break from a ref., well you might want to look again.

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I would say the calls where pretty good. I think the problem is that in the premiership that the big clubs alwasy get the 50/50 calls in their favour. And so Liverpool expects close calls to go their way.

i didn't see the whole game though, only the highlights as for some unknown reason the FIFA's Club World Championships were not on TV in Switzerland, where i was durring the tournement. I mean nowhere, not even Blatter's daughter's bar in Visp had the game. Really quite annoying. Well at least I got to see a SwissCom Cup game in Basel so i can't complain.

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