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By ESPN Staff

Referees under fire after Primera Liga controversy

MADRID, April 3 (Reuters) - Controversial refereeing decisions prompted criticism from media, players and fans on Monday after Spanish referees called off the strike that had threatened the weekend's Primera Liga matches.

Referees played a decisive role in three of the weekend's biggest matches.

Real Madrid players railed against referee Luis Medina Cantalejo after their 1-1 draw against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The home side were awarded a controversial early penalty after midfielder Mark van Bommel appeared to take a dive in the area under challenge from Roberto Carlos.

The Brazilian full back was later sent off for insulting the referee while Real had a penalty appeal turned down when Ronaldo went down in the area after a light touch from a defender.

'It wasn't a penalty and the ref wasn't good,' David Beckham was quoted as saying on the Real Madrid website.

'There was a clear penalty against Ronaldo later on but he was wearing a white shirt. This referee likes Barcelona.'

Beckham, who has been sent off twice by Medina Cantalejo while playing for Real and England, was fortunate to escape a booking when he fired the ball at the referee after Roberto Carlos's dismissal.

Before their game against Celta Vigo, some 50,000 Atletico Madrid fans held up banners bearing the phrase 'We're fed up' complaining that a series of refereeing decisions had prejudiced their chances of earning a place in Europe.

They ended the game even more irate after referee Vicente Lizondo Cortes awarded a penalty when Celta striker Iriney appeared to trip over his own feet in the area and then ordered it to be retaken after the first spot kick was saved.

'I think the club should do something about the referees so they stop treating us like fools,' said Atletico midfielder Gabi. 'We are angry that we are losing as a result of mistakes that aren't of our own making.'

Atletico have appealed against the booking given to defender Luis Perea who was close to Iriney when he went to ground.

The city derby between Real Betis and Sevilla was also marked by controversy when referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez ignored a strong penalty appeal from the home side and then awarded them a dubious one a few minutes later.

With Sevilla trailing 2-1 in the final minutes he then waved play on when Betis defender Oscar Lopez held striker Javier Saviola around the neck as he tried to reach the ball in the area.

'It was a clear penalty,' said the Argentine international. 'I felt the contact and fell over. I don't usually complain but this was definitely a penalty.'

Referees had said they would not officiate at the weekend's matches unless they received pay they were owed for the previous two months. They called off their action when the Spanish football authorities agreed to order an immediate deposit into their accounts.

They are not permitted to make comments to the media about the matches they referee.