THE coaches of Uruguay and Ghana last night brushed aside conspiracy theories claiming English referee Howard Webb was replaced as the man in charge of today’s World Cup quarter-final because of the controversy over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal.
A Uruguayan referee team led by Jorge Larrionda was in charge of the England v Germany match when Lampard’s shot clearly crossed the line but no goal was given.
FIFA announced that Portugal official Olegario Benquerenca will take charge of the Uruguay v Ghana quarter-final and insisted there was no question – as has been rumoured – that Webb, who has not been given a last-eight match, had originally been earmarked for the match.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said: “It seems every time there is a slight coincidence of any sort we start to dramatise things. We have nothing to do with refereeing – they are like a player and they can do well or do badly, we don’t have any suspicions, it does not exist as far as we are concerned.”
Ghana’s coach Milovan Rajevac added: “I pay no attention to who will be our referee – the referee will be of the highest level. After a match I never make comments about the referee so I’m not even thinking about it.”
Uruguay have been one of the surprises of the tournament under the experienced 63-year-old coach Tabarez, known to all as ‘Maestro’.
Reaching the semi-finals would be the best achievement by the first winners of the World Cup –– Uruguay won in 1930 and again in 1950 – since 1970, but Tabarez has warned against looking at past glories.
He added: “I don’t want to talk about the historical dimension – anything that involves thinking beyond tomorrow makes us lose concentration.
“Ghana are getting closer to elite competition and I think they will continue to improve.”
Uruguay share the best defensive record in the World Cup having conceded just one goal. They have impressive strikers in Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, described by Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan as the best in the tournament.
Tabarez insists there is no extra burden on his strikers, however.
He added: “We want them to play as part of the team and for everyone to give their best. We are not giving anyone any specific responsibility. If we want to make our dreams come true they will all have to play very well.”
Meanwhile Ghana football president Kwesi Nyantakyi believes the Black Stars can make history and be the first African side to make the semi-finals.
Yet Nyantakyi insists they are strong enough to carry it and beat Uruguay.
“It is a huge opportunity for us to make history,” said.
“Our aim is the final. The only team that has ever won a World Cup outside its own continent is Brazil. We want to maintain that record by winning it ourselves and really showing the world what African football is all about.”
Ghana’s achievements are made even more remarkable by the fact star manMichael Essien was ruled out of the tournament by a knee injury.
Yet the Black Stars are not constructed around a couple of brilliant individuals with clear weaknesses elsewhere.
Progress had started by 2005, when they were named the most improved team on the planet by FIFA. The following year they reached the World Cup finals for the first time, making the last 16, where they lost to Brazil.
Progress continued with a third- placed finish at the 2008 African Nations Cup. Most importantly of all, they won the U20 world championship last year.
“We implemented a programme of development that was achievable and sustainable,” he said. “Most probably these players will be around for the next World Cup – they will still be in their 20s, so there is a lot more to come from us.”
It is now two decades since Pele made his famous claim that an African team would win the World Cup in the 20th century. That deadline has passed but in Ghana, there is a team who could yet make the dream a reality.
“When Pele said that, the continent was still taking baby steps football wise,” said Nyantakyi.
“Now we have six teams at the World Cup. It is only a matter of time before an African team wins the World Cup. And don’t discount it being us.”
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