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Thursday, June 3, 2010

World Cup stories - The strange case of Byron Moreno

One of the frustrations of the World Cup is the inconsistent refereeing. Game officials are drawn from all the continental football federations and to be honest the best tend to be from Europe. There is no bias in this statement but the European refs deal with club teams with enough talent to take on the best national teams. The European game, where all the top players no matter their nationality, is a lot faster and the European refs are wise to the players' well honed skills of diving and other trickery to bemuse refs .

A referee whose experience is Ecuadorian league games might be a little out of his depth in the charged atmosphere of a World Cup 2nd round game as was Byron Moreno who hailed from Ecuador. He looked like he was pulled out of central casting in Hollywood to play a sadistic Central American police officer interrogating a gringo couple trying to explain how ten pounds of cocaine had mysteriously appeared in the false bottom of their luggage at the airport.

He was in charge of the second round Italy - South Korea game in 2002, won by the hosts in a manner that caused the Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni to accuse FIFA of fixing the game to ensure the hosts progress in the tournament. While that was a dubious accusation at best, there is no doubt Moreno handed the Koreans the game on a silver platter. Not only did he call a perfectly good Italian goal offside in extra time he also gave Francesco Totti a red card for a second yellow for diving. While there was little foot contact with the Korean defender there certainly was enough head contact to bring Totti down. Moreno later blamed the linesman for the errors and he understandably played no further role in the tournament.

A further blown call in the quarter final helped South Korea beat Spain on penalties after two Spanish goals had been disallowed.

The story gets really interesting after Moreno returned to Ecuador. With his looks he fancied a suitable career was in politics and he ran for the Quito city council. During the heat of the election he was tasked with officiating a game between a local team and one from Guayaquil the second largest city in Ecuador. The local team were down 3-2 when Moreno signaled six minutes of injury time. His watch must have malfunctioned because injury time lasted a full thirteen minutes giving the local team enough time to score two goals and win. The fact that he was also accused of falsifying the minutes in which Liga de Quito scored their equalizing and winning goals in his official match report ensured both a 20 game suspension as well as his election to the council.

In his third game following his suspension he sent off three players from the home team allowing the visiting team from Quito to salvage a draw. Another suspension followed after which he chose to retire from officiating to devote his full attention to his blossoming political career.

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