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By ESPN Staff

Russian ref defends himself after 20-card game

MOSCOW, June 27 (Reuters) - Russian referee Valentin Ivanov said the stormy World Cup match between Portugal and Netherlands was the most difficult of his professional career.

Ivanov has been under fire for his performance in Sunday's second-round clash, won 1-0 by Portugal, which saw a World Cup record four red cards shown.

'Probably, from the point of view of rudeness, it was the worst match I ever had,' the 45-year-old referee was quoted as saying by Russian daily Izvestia on Tuesday.

Both teams finished the bad-tempered encounter with nine men while eight others were cautioned.

Ivanov was heavily criticised by players, coaches and even FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who had said the referee could have given a yellow card to himself.

'I consider that the referee was not at the same level as the players. There could have been a yellow card for the referee,' Blatter told Portuguese television.

But Ivanov, who will end his international career this year because of FIFA's imposed age limit of 45, defended himself.

Asked if he thought he had made any mistakes, he said: 'I don't know. I haven't seen the video yet but I called the action as I saw it.'

Ivanov said he was taken by surprise by the rough tactics of Dutch players.

'You would expect some dirty tricks from the Portuguese. They are known for time-wasting or hitting from behind,' he said. 'But I was unpleasantly surprised by seeing such things from the Dutch. More so, they were the instigators.'

Russian soccer chief Vitaly Mutko said Blatter's criticism of Ivanov was totally unfair.

'If Ivanov should be given a yellow card for his performance than many other referees at this World Cup deserve a red,' Mutko told Izvestia.

German Football Association (DFB) president Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder also came to Ivanov's defence, saying the referee was just enforcing the rules.

'The way I saw it, the match was not lacking a sense of discretion on the referee's part but rather the teams did not follow the rules of the game,' said Mayer-Vorfelder.

'FIFA gave the order to the referees to adhere the rules firmly as far as tackling, holding jerseys and time wasting are concerned. This was made perfectly clear to all the teams. It's completely correct that the referees are enforcing the rules.'