2002 Fifa World Cup Referee Assignment

For once the cliche was true and football did unite Italy, but it was a shared experience of bitterness, dismay and utter certainty that the nation had been mugged.

A sense of injustice blistered seconds after the realisation that South Korea had scored a golden goal and the referee - the Ecuadorian referee - had blown the whistle on a match Italians regarded as rigged, or at best botched.

Byron Moreno's performance was denounced as the nadir of incompetence. Or was it evidence of a plot? Italy had defeated Ecuador in the first round. The debate raged in parliament, on television, in cafes and piazzas.

Not since Italy's humiliation by North Korea in England in 1966 had a World Cup exit so hurt but this time, Italians agreed, the players were not to blame.

"Death to the referee", chanted hundreds of fans gathered by a big screen at Rome's main train station. Some Koreans made the mistake of celebrating, prompting a cascade of plastic bottles and insults. "Thieves, thieves, you stole the game". Police broke up the scuffles.

For 90 minutes viewers and commentators contested Moreno's decisions - South Korea's free-kicks, penalty, equaliser - but it was the sending off in extra-time of Francesco Totti and Damiano Tommasi's disallowed goal which dispelled doubts. "Frankly, that was complete robbery," said Bruno Pizzul, commentating for the state broadcaster Rai.

Sergio Campana, the president of Italy's footballers' association, demanded that Italy's football federation register a protest of shame and disgust with the governing body Fifa.

Parliamentarians abandoned a debate on assisted fertility. Daniela Santache, of the right-wing National Alliance, was apoplectic. "I always thought Korea was corrupt and this proves it." Italy was a "sacrificial victim" for the hosts, said others. As the insults veered close to racism politicians ushered cameras out of their offices, though not before one had demanded the referee be sent to a Sardinian mine.

The captain, Paolo Maldini, said: "It is possible to make mistakes, but today the referee went too far. Sincerely it was scandalous."

They will lie low until the mourning passes but that minority of Italians who feel oppressed by their country's passion for football were yesterday serene, verging on content. "Fortunately the nightmare is finished," said Pierluigi Battista, a commentator with La Stampa.

The Corriere dello Sport newspaper alleges that the referee who presided over Spain’s defeat to South Korea was designated by Jack Warner.

The newspaper claims the under-fire former FIFA executive assigned referees to a number of matches at the tournament, among them Spain's controversial penalty loss to the joint-host nation.

Gaizka Mendieta of Spain grapples with South Korean Seol Ki-hyeonAFP

Egyptian referee Gamal Al-Ghandour was instructed to oversee the quarter-final tie, with Warner’s fellow Trinidadian Michael Ragoonath chosen as his assistant.

The match is remembered for the multitude of questionable officiating decisions, which saw Spain denied two valid goals and eventually crash out 5-3 on penalties.

Warner, a former FIFA vice-President and CONCAFAF head, was charged with corruption charges by the United States Department of Justice on Wednesday.

Jack WarnerEurosport

While it is not suggested that Warner selected the referee for Italy's 2-1 extra-time defeat to South Korea in 2002, the Italian press have long viewed that game with sceptisism.

Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno, who sent off Francesco Totti during the game, was recently released from a 26-month sentence for drug trafficking in New York.

Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno is berated by Italy playersLaPresse

After the defeat, Sepp Blatter said "Italy's elimination is not only down to referees and linesmen who made human not premeditated errors ... Italy made mistakes both in defense and in attack."

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