Webb to referee World Cup final

Published Jul. 10, 2010 6:09 p.m. ET

World Cup final referee Howard Webb is getting a much better ending to his second big tournament than to his first.

On Sunday, the shaven-headed former policeman will stride out in front of the Netherlands and Spain teams at Soccer City after being given his profession's most prestigious assignment.

Two years ago, the English official was sent home early from the European Championship for a missed offside call in a group-stage match. That match between host Austria and Poland also is remembered for a stoppage-time penalty kick that earned him death threats from Polish fans.

Webb's ordeal was captured by a film crew with authorized behind-the-scenes access to make the documentary ''Kill The Referee.''

''We see the knife-edge that we live on in terms of officiating at major tournaments,'' Webb said about the film on Saturday. ''One big decision and the ambitions that we have can be cut short.''

The experience certainly didn't kill Webb's career, and appears to have made him stronger.

Alongside the same team of assistants, Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey, who shared his Euro 2008 disappointment, he will be busy Sunday.


''We have certainly kept trying and refocused and we're delighted with the way this has gone,'' the 38-year-old Webb said. ''This is a massive honor for us. This is massively important for the world. It only comes around every four years.''

The English trio had a strong World Cup even as high-profile errors by some of their colleagues have become headline material. Webb has been particularly praised for his player-management skills to keep firm control of three matches without showing a red card.

Notably, his handling of a highly charged, win-or-go-home group match between defending champion Italy and Slovakia won acclaim.

''We need to try to be a calming influence on the game,'' Webb explained. ''The perfect game for me would be one where nobody is speaking about the officials, and they are speaking about the excellent game of football and the skill of the players.

''That is what the 80,000 people at Soccer City will come to see.''


TV RATINGS: After 62 of the 64 games of the World Cup, ESPN/ABC networks have averaged a 1.9 U.S. rating, up 36 percent from 1.4 through the same point in 2006. The average household audience is up 41 percent from 1.575 million to 2.227 million and the viewer audience is up 45 percent to nearly 3 million.

The 2010 event is also ahead of 1994, when the World Cup was held in the United States and was the most-watched World Cup in U.S. television history. Through the quarterfinals, this year's competition averaged 2.198 million homes, up 32 percent from 16 years ago.


MORE LIKE ME: Dutch soccer great Johan Cruyff says that of the two teams in the World Cup final he ''sees the most of me'' in Spain and not the Netherlands.

The former midfield star and architect of Dutch ''total football'' of the 1970s made the comment in an interview with De Telgraaf. His country of birth is whipping itself into a soccer frenzy for the final in Johannesburg.

An orange tram rode around Amsterdam on Saturday, and the Defense Ministry announced that two F-16 fighter jets, including one painted orange, will escort the team's plane home once it reaches Dutch air space Monday. The same orange F-16 roared low over Amsterdam's Arena moments before the Netherlands routed Hungary 6-1 in its final World Cup warmup.

Cruyff also praised Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque for forging a cohesive team out of stars drawn from archrival clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Cruyff, who now divides his time between Spain and the Netherlands, did not predict who would win.

''I have links with both the Netherlands and Spain,'' he said. ''Whatever the result, I win.''


DOOOOEEEELLLL!: There are 11 ways in which South Africans can shout ''Goal!'' and the government has a book to prove it.

As the World Cup fever was getting into its swing, the South African government's department of arts and culture asked teams of linguists, sports experts, journalists and broadcasters to compile, then translate, a list of 348 key soccer terms.

They wanted to ''to ensure that each and every South African gets the opportunity to be acquainted with the relevant information pertaining to the World Cup in their own language.''

And the experts obliged.

After years of work, they produced a 240-page book that translates key soccer terms in South Africa's 11 official languages. A Goal in English, is ''Doel'' in Afrikaans, ''Igoli'' in Zulu or ''Inqaku'' in Xhosa. Words like ''penalty'' and even ''underdog'' were translated.


FORMULA ONE OPINION: Spanish Formula One driver Fernando Alonso reckons there's more chance of his country winning the World Cup on Sunday than him winning the British Grand Prix.

Alonso qualified in third place for Sunday's race at Silverstone, England, which takes place before Spain plays the Netherlands in the World Cup final.

Alonso finished eighth at the European Grand Prix two weeks ago. He believes ''it's easier that the football team wins tomorrow.''

The reigning European champions have never reached a World Cup final before and the Ferrari driver is urging them ''to capitalize on this opportunity, just in case we have to wait another 40 or 50 years to get here again. Try to make people happy.''