World of Sport

World Cup Papers: World Wide Webb

World of Sport

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After 63 matches and 30 days, the World Cup finals will conclude with an episode of Howard's Way. A proud, feisty Englishman will be the last man standing at the conclusion of the planet's largest sporting event, and the British newspapers come out in force to revel in such an odd happening.

Howard Webb, a baldy referee from Rotherham, a bit of an English Pierluigi Collina one might say, will be handed the hairiest match of his life when he oversees the World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain. The Fifa decision to go for Webb, the first Englishman since Jack Taylor in 1974 to officiate at the final, has been lauded in the UK newspapers.

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"England get their final connection via world wide Webb", says the main headline on the back page of The Times.

"It's a massive appointment for Howard as well as the other lads," says Dermot Gallagher, the former Premier League referee. "It's like going to the Olympic Games and winning a gold medal."

If Germany had reached the final, Geoffrey Boycott would have had as much chance as Webb of being handed the privilege, but the Yorkshireman is primed for something a little bit tastier than Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings in Johannesburg late on Sunday evening.

Taylor pens a column in The Sun recalling his handling of Germany's 2-1 win over the Netherlands, a match in which he awarded the Dutch a penalty in the opening seconds of the final.

"When I think back to the 1974 World Cup final, I can hear Franz Beckenbauer's words after I awarded a penalty to Holland in the first minute," he writes in The Sun.

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"The German captain angrily confronted me and said 'Taylor, you're an Englishman' and that was it.

"I talked to him about that comment years later and he gave me that side-smile smirk of his and said "Jack, it was a World Cup final." - a suggestion, perhaps, I was being biased against Germany.

"During my 33 years as a referee, I officiated at around 1,000 games, including 100 internationals - but none of them came close to matching July 7, 1974, in Munich."

They are hardly going to start bringing the bunting back out of the cupboard to celebrate Webb's elevation, but the papers will happily celebrate any little morsel of success that has been bestowed upon England.

"England win the World Cup final," shrieks the back page of the Mirror. "Former Yorkshire copper Webb, 38, will become the first whistler ever to oversee the World Cup final and Champions League final in the same season, when he referees Sunday's showdown between Spain and Holland."

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"Referee does what Fab could only DREAM of," claims the Mirror. "Fly the flag of wonder of Webb" says the Daily Mail.

Graham Poll, a figure whose participation in the 2006 World Cup finals ended in some embarrassment when he handed a Croatian player three yellow cards before unearthing his red card, takes the Collina link one step further.

He tells the paper that Webb is following in the footsteps of the fabled Italian referee.

Collina was the last European to handle a World Cup final at the Brazil v Germany game in 2002.

"Webb has a lot of Collina's qualities and not just the same hairstyle! And he needs to take on board the Italian's view on the final. When I asked what it was like to walk out for a World Cup final - he was referee in the 2002 showcase between Germany and Brazil - Collina said that apart from the startling memory of the flashbulbs going off, it was just like any other match," writes Poll.

"You must focus on keeping everything as normal as possible and not try extra hard to avoid mistakes."

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The Mail also contrast the relaxed approach in the Dutch camp to what they describe as Fabio Capello's "boot-camp regime in South Africa".

Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder is on the verge of becoming the first player in history to win his domestic league and cup, the Champions League and the World Cup in one season. He also looks happy with his purchase among the WAGS of the Netherlands.

"(Wesley) Sneijder, in total contrast to a paranoid FA who don't allow media or public anywhere near the players at the World Cup, was mingling in the lobby of his Sandton Hotel yesterday happy to talk to anybody who was around while he waited to take his wife out for lunch," says the Mail.

The Daily Star get in the mood for the final by suggesting Chelsea have made a "cheeky" £30m bid for the Spain striker Fernando Torres. The paper claims Chelsea will offer Torres a contract in the region of £120,000 per week.

The Spanish press has images of Queen Sofia of Spain congratulating members of the Spanish team for reaching their first World Cup final, while it also tells us that Spain will play the final in their changed blue shirt. Carles Puyol tells the newspaper that he proposed his header, the winning goal against Germany in the semi-final, to coach Vicente Del Bosque before the match.

De Telegraaf in the Netherlands tells us that flights to the country are up by 20 per cent as Dutch people return home to watch the final. Whether or not a Dutch win is but a flight of fancy remains to be seen. 

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