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Sep 22, 2010

World Cup referee charged with drug smuggling

Byron Moreno, who refereed Italy's 2002 World Cup exit to South Korea, has been arrested and charged with smuggling heroin.

Moreno, an Ecuadorian, was arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and federal prosecutors said he was found with bags of heroin strapped to his body. A customs agent is said to have found more than ten pounds of the drug.

He has been jailed without bail.

Moreno was accused of a series of blunders when World Cup co-hosts South Korea beat Italy 2-1 after extra time in 2002. Italy were unhappy that a seemingly legitimate goal was disallowed for offside, while Moreno also rejected a penalty shout and sent Francesco Totti off for diving.

In response to the arrest, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said: "I think Moreno already had the (heroin) in 2002, but not in his underwear - in his body.

"Joking aside, when sports people get involved in drug cases it means they're scraping the bottom of the barrel. It also means they've lost the real meaning of the sport, which is also to save kids from the street and various dangers, like drugs."

Former Italy international Christian Panucci, who also played against South Korea in 2002, appeared equally unsympathetic on hearing the news.

"I insulted him for the entire 90 minutes, but he didn't bat an eyelid," Panucci told Sky Italia. "He looked up to the heavens and repeated: 'Play on'.

"He was only interested in seeing Korea go through. FIFA had put him there for that reason. Moreno was certainly an incompetent, but the greater responsibility should be taken by those who made him referee the game."

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni, who was in charge of Italy from 2000 to 2004, added: "I wasn't entirely surprised. It confirms more or less everything I thought about him at the time of that World Cup.

"I remember that game very well. The Francesco Totti red card and the annulment of a clear goal from Damiano Tommasi. We deserved to go through."

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