The referee in charge of the controversial Italy v South Korea match has accused the Italians of ‘looking for excuses’ to explain their elimination from the tournament.

Byron Moreno has been pilloried by players, coaches and by officials of the Italian football federation for his handling of Tuesday’s match which saw Italy knocked out by co-hosts South Korea. However, the official has dismissed the criticism as sour grapes.

“I feel that I did a great job in the game,’ said Moreno. ‘Italy are looking for excuses to justify their elimination. They are hurt because they thought they were favorites to win this World Cup. But my conscience is clear,” he said.

“FIFA supported me after the game, and that was great for me. This was my last game in this World Cup, and now I’m going on holiday to the United States for some time with my wife.”

Earllier, Italian players, furious at the referee’s decision to send-off Francesco Totti for diving, were queuing up to criticise Moreno’s performance.

“Mr Moreno whistled against us from the first minute to the last,’ said skipper Paolo Maldini. ‘It was a scandal. They wanted Italy out of the World Cup. You all saw what Moreno did.”

“Before the beginning of the match Damiano Tommasi, a very polite guy, tried to greet him as he always does before every match. He offered his hand but Moreno turned around andrefused to shake it.”

Goalkeeper Francesco Toldo added: “There has been a plot to put Italy out of the WorldCup. The refereeing was ridiculous. The Ecuadorian referee’s attitude was purposefully provocative tonight from the very beginning.”

Italy World Cup delegation chief Raffaele Ranucci continued: “The refereeing was scandalous. Not only for the penalty episode, but for the absolutely unfair red card shown to Totti and for so many other incidents that I can’t even count. The general conduct of the game was scandalous. It was a dirty trick. Why are referees against Italy?”