FIFA president Sepp Blatter has denied making disparaging comments to the Australian media about World Cup winners Italy.
Blatter was quoted as saying that Australia should have played in the quarter-finals instead of eventual winners Italy.
Australia’s players were incensed when Italy were awarded a penalty in the fifth minute of injury time of their quarter-final after Lucas Neill had brought down Fabio Grosso.
Francesco Totti converted the penalty to give Italy a 1-0 win and a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
In the television interview with SBS Television of Sydney on Sunday, Blatter said referees at this year’s cup finals “were not at their best”.
“I think there was too much cheating on the players’ side,” Blatter said in the interview.
“I agree with them and I would like to apologise (to) our fans in Australia.
“The Socceroos should have gone into the quarter-finals in place of Italy… you go into extra time and you are 11 against 10. But that is presumptuous.”
However, FIFA insisted that Blatter had not intended to criticise the Italian team.
“The Italian team proved that, despite serious pressures at home, they stuck together as a team and delivered exceptional football,” it quoted Blatter as saying.
“The Italian team proved that superior skills, team work and individual determination are the ingredients that lead to World Cup glory,” he added.
“With my statement I simply wanted to pay credit to the Socceroos as well because they played a great match and their lack of experience did not permit them to go to extra-time,” he said.
Blatter has incurred the wrath of Italian Football Federation vice-commissioner Gigi Riva.
“We won’t permit him to say these things. Blatter must respect the World Cup winners,” Riva fumed.
“I am astonished, because when we went to see him in Zurich, he complimented the team for the victory and said we had been the best team in the tournament.
“A lot of things add up now. Blatter didn’t attend the ceremony to hand over the World Cup trophy, which was unheard of in the history of the sport.
“Let’s not forget also the two-match ban to Marco Materazzi (who was headbutted by Zinedine Zidane in the final), a decision that the world over found laughable.”
Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to success in Germany, was more circumspect in his remarks.
“I have just heard about this. I prefer, at least for the moment, to not make a comment,” Lippi said.
“When I’ve had time to get a better idea of what was said, I can express my opinion.”