This is it!

Ex-ref Webb re­flects on heated 2010 Cup fi­nale

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - klar­son@post­media.com @KurtLarSUN KURT LAR­SON in Moscow

Set­ting up the fi­nal week­end of the World Cup:

MOSCOW — While the world dis­sected Howard Webb, the English ref­eree was con­vers­ing with his as­sis­tants.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing to my as­sis­tants over the ra­dio, ‘This is not go­ing as planned. This is not what we ex­pected,” Webb told the Toronto Sun prior to this World Cup.

It has been eight years since Webb took charge of a World Cup fi­nal that, like Sun­day, also fea­tured a pair of UEFA sides at Soc­cer City, Jo­han­nes­burg.

“I got lucky when Spain won,” Webb said. “We were three min­utes away from kicks from the penalty mark to de­cide the game.”

Webb ad­mits he was, per­haps, three min­utes from hav­ing his ca­reer al­ter course.

How­ever, he doesn’t shy away from ad­dress­ing one of the most con­tro­ver­sial in­ci­dents in World Cup his­tory.

At is­sue, of course, was Webb’s de­ci­sion to cau­tion Dutch hard man Nigel de Jong when he should have been sent off for karate kick­ing Spain’s Xabi Alonso mid­way through the first half.

“The se­ri­ous foul play chal­lenge by Nigel de Jong (be­came) in­signif­i­cant,” Webb re­sponded.

But while Webb’s de­ci­sion didn’t im­pact the out­come, the for­mer Pre­mier League dis­ci­plinar­ian says it still im­pacts him.

“I get re­minded of it quite of­ten,” he added. “If the Nether­lands would have won that game, my ca­reer would have taken a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, for sure. So I got lucky.”

Webb is one of just 20 ref­er­ees to take charge of the big­gest game on the planet. He’s among the elite group of of­fi­cials who can recount the hours lead­ing up to be­com­ing the most-watched per­son in the world.

“Look­ing back now — eight years later — it’s al­most like look­ing back on some­one else,” Webb said. “To think how you sleep the night be­fore that game know­ing what’s at stake ...

“The sport is so huge glob­ally,” he added. “It’s just such a sig­nif­i­cant thing to do.”

He was “feel­ing pretty con­fi­dent” as his team at­tended Soc­cer City the night be­fore the fi­nal to get a feel for the be­he­moth venue. Webb re­calls be­ing tended to by tech­ni­cal in­struc­tors and phys­ios.

“On the morn­ing of the game we sat back with a sports psy­chol­o­gist and looked back on all the big games we’d de­liv­ered well,” Webb said. “We drew strength from that. We had some tech­ni­cal in­struc­tion as to how the teams would play.”

Af­ter all, La Furia Roja were in the midst of their “Tik­i­taka” era and the Dutch of­fered a list of qual­ity at­tack­ers.

“The game was so much harder than I ever an­tic­i­pated,” Webb re­marked. “I just couldn’t have imag­ined it would be quite so phys­i­cal.”

In a match that ended with 13 cau­tions and a send­ing off, Webb rem­i­nisces about an early in­ter­ac­tion that in­di­cated things were go­ing to be dif­fer­ent.

“There was (an early) tackle by Robin van Per­sie, who at the time played for Arse­nal. I knew Robin pretty well. I’d ref­er­eed him a dozen times or so,” Webb said.

“He com­mit­ted a foul that wasn’t wor­thy of a cau­tion, but it was wor­thy of a word of ad­vice.

“I spoke to Robin, but he seemed a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent in his de­meanour to­wards me ... He wasn’t quite as re­spon­sive as I’d ex­pect dur­ing a Pre­mier League game.

“I guess it was the in­ten­sity of the oc­ca­sion and these play­ers know­ing they were on the cusp of some­thing great.”

He had al­ready cautioned four play­ers in­side the first 30 min­utes when de Jong crushed Alonso.

“(The cards) didn’t calm any­thing down,” Webb con­tin­ued. “It kept com­ing and com­ing.”

He adds Span­ish de­fender Car­los Puyol would have been ejected had Ar­jen Robben gone down un­der a sec­ond-half chal­lenge.

“It would have been a send­ing off. It would have been for sure,” Webb in­ter­jected.

But Webb cor­rectly played ad­van­tage upon see­ing Robben shrug off Puyol’s cyn­i­cal chal­lenge. With only the goal­keeper to beat, the Dutch­man’s break­away was de­nied by Iker Casil­las, paving the way for Ini­esta’s mo­ment in ex­tra time.

But even that mo­ment caused the English ref­eree to hold his breath.

“I’d al­ready cautioned 12 play­ers,” Webb pointed out. “When Ini­esta took his shirt off to cel­e­brate my heart sank be­cause I’d lost a bit of track of who’d been cautioned.

“I looked at my card ...

There was no ‘No. 6’ on the Span­ish side (of my book). That was an­other piece of good for­tune on my side.”

While most of the talk and thoughts have cen­tred around the play­ers ahead of Sun­day’s fi­nal be­tween France and Croa­tia, Webb will be think­ing of some­one else.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing din­ner the night be­fore the fi­nal in 2014. I’d been with (World Cup fi­nal ref­eree Ni­cola Riz­zoli) and re­mem­ber think­ing I ... could imag­ine how he was feel­ing,” Webb said. “I didn’t re­ally wish I was go­ing into that game the fol­low­ing day.

“You just know that it’s some­thing that will change your life. Hope­fully it goes well and no­body is re­mem­ber­ing you for the wrong rea­son, but that can hap­pen.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Nether­lands mid­fielder Nigel de Jong re­ceived just a yel­low card for this foul on Spain’s Xabi Alonso dur­ing the 2010 World Cup fi­nal.

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