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By ESPN Staff

Blatter criticizes performance of Ivanov

BERLIN (AP) -- The record stream of yellow and red cards in the World Cup has soccer's highest official issuing his own caution -- to the referees.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter criticized Valentin Ivanov's handling of Portugal's 1-0 second-round win over the Netherlands, when the Russian referee handed out a record-tying 16 yellow cards and an unprecedented four reds.

In a frank assessment to a Portuguese TV station, Blatter said Ivanov was not up to the level of the players.

"I think there could have been a yellow card for the referee," Blatter said.

There were 23 red and 291 yellow cards handed out in the first 52 matches at Germany 2006, surpassing marks in any previous World Cup. And there's still 12 matches remaining.

Portugal captain Luis Figo was lucky to escape ejection, getting a yellow card for a skirmish with Mark van Bommel when TV replays clearly showed him head-butting the Dutch player in the 58th minute -- a direct red card offense.

FIFA communications director Markus Siegler said Monday that the disciplinary committee would not review the incident because Ivanov had taken action, on the field, on advice from his linesman.

Figo "was sanctioned immediately by the referee," he said.

"The referee's report came in last night and is being analyzed by the relevant people. But it is very unlikely anything will happen as he has been sanctioned already on the spot."

"It is only where there is a clear disciplinary issue which has not been acted upon by the referee that the (disciplinary) committee can look at it," Siegler said.

Siegler refused to expand on Blatter's stinging criticism of Ivanov's performance, saying -- in German -- "you might have seen the FIFA president made a comment. There is nothing more to add." Ivanov set the tone with some early cautions for incidents that would have been overlooked in most league competitions.

And once Portugal scored the only goal in the 23rd minute-winner from Maniche, Ivanov struggled to deal with mounting tension and the loss of sportsmanship on both sides.

"This was a game of emotion, with exceptional drama in the last instant, with a deserved winner," Blatter said. "But it was a great show with intervention by the referee that was not consistent, and had a lack of fair play by some players."

The FIFA referees committee will meet Wednesday to decide which officials stay after the second round. Already they're likely to be without experienced English referee Graham Poll, who issued three yellow cards to the same Croatia player -- two yellow cards should immediately be followed by a red. That technical error could have resulted in a first-round match with Australia being replayed.

Markus Merk, an early favorite to handle the final if host Germany does not make it, also dented his chances with a highly criticized performance in the Brazil-Australia first-round match.

Ivanov's chances of more appointments appear remote.

Responding to questions about referees adhering to instructions from FIFA and not being allowed enough discretion, Siegler reiterated earlier comments.

"It's not about instructions being given," he said. "They're reiterated because this is the biggest platform to show the consistent application of the laws of the game."

After the first round, Siegler said the World Cup had been wide open, with offensive flair, and rejected the notion that the extraordinarily high number of cautions was a paradox.

"You could say if the referees were not active, it could have turned out into a more unfair or dirty tournament," he said. "I'm convinced that because the referee is applying rules consistently and the players have been warned from the beginning," the tournament has been "quite fair."