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By ESPN Staff

FIFA names just 23 referees for 2006 World Cup

FRANKFURT, March 31 (Reuters) - FIFA sprang a surprise on Friday by naming just 23 referees to cover the 64 games of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The Referees Committee made the final choice from 44 candidates who underwent tests in Frankfurt last weekend.

The 23 referees come from 23 different countries and include well-known figures such as Markus Merk of Germany and Lubos Michel of Slovakia.

A total of 36 referees officiated at the last World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002 and FIFA had been expected to choose around 30 this time.

Instead, FIFA named a seven-strong group of "support" referees who will be present at the tournament but will only officiate in the event of another referee being unable to take charge of a match because of injury or illness, for example.

The places of Frank De Bleeckere of Belgium and Carlos Batres of Guatemala in the 23-man team are subject to the completion of fitness tests, after they were unable to take part in them in Frankfurt because of injury.

The World Cup begins on June 9 in Munich when hosts Germany play Costa Rica. The final in is Berlin on July 9.

List of 23 referees chosen to officiate at the 2006 World Cup in Germany:

Essam Abd El Fatah (Egypt)
Carlos Amarilla (Paraguay)
Benito Archundia (Mexico)
Carlos Batres (Guatemala)
Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)
Coffi Codjia (Benin)
Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)
Massimo de Santis (Italy)
Horacio Elizondo (Argentina)
Valentin Ivanov (Russia)
Toru Kamikawa (Japan)
Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay)
Shamsul Maidin (Singapore)
Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain)
Markus Merk (Germany)
Lubos Michel (Slovakia)
Graham Poll (England)
Eric Poulat (France)
Peter Prendergast (Jamaica)
Oscar Ruiz (Colombia)
Mark Shield (Australia)
Carlos Simon (Brazil)
Kyros Vassaras (Greece)