New Zealand football referee Peter O’Leary is ‘‘hurting and upset’’ over the controversial call that has made him public enemy No 1 in Bosnia.
O’Leary, a Whangarei schoolteacher, was lambasted by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s star striker Edin Dzeko after Bosnia was knocked out of the World Cup by Nigeria.
Palmerston North podiatrist and linesman Mark Rule wrongly ruled Dzeko off-side when he scored. O’Leary upheld the ruling and was later photographed laughing with one of the Nigerian players.
Nigeria went on to win the group F game 1-0, ending war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina’s dreams of advancing to the knockout stages.
Friend and colleague in both teaching and refereeing Brett Chibnall said he had been in contact with O’Leary and ‘‘he’s hurting and he’s upset’’.
‘‘He wants to do the best he can and he did the best he could.
"The Bosnians are identifying and blaming anyone they can because they’re upset,’’ Chibnall said.
‘‘Their lead striker couldn’t score in the last second of the game. He looked like he was out for a morning stroll.’’
Chibnall said O’Leary had performed ‘‘outstandingly’’ and Bosnia was only upset about one call.
‘‘We need to all say, you did a great game and represented New Zealand wonderfully well. There was one contentious decision and we don’t rate you on one decision.’’
Chibnall said he was not at all concerned about O’Leary’s physical safety, and was confident his friend would bounce back emotionally.
‘‘He’s a very strong and dedicated person, but he will be hurting at the moment.’’
Northern Football Federation development officer Dave Alabaster said O’Leary should not be fired.
‘‘I think he had a great game, personally. You couldn’t blame him for any decisions. He’s obviously trusting his lineman. At halftime he’d only given five free kicks total, which shows that he really let the game flow and it was enjoyable to watch.
‘‘It’s really hard to know how much he knows of what’s going on here in New Zealand. There’s an outcry in Bosnia, but I would guess the rest of the world doesn’t even know this [controversy] is going on.
‘‘I’m hoping he’s getting all the support he needs, but I think he’s a pretty tough character.’’
O’Leary was just the second New Zealander to referee a World Cup game, following Michael Hester in 2010. Rule was a late call-up for Brazil after O’Leary’s original assistant, Ravinesh Kumar, got injured.
After the game, Dzeko was asked what happened to Bosnia’s campaign.
‘‘The referee happened,’’ the Manchester City man said.
‘‘We are going home, we are sad because of that, but the referee should go home, too. Because he changed the result, he changed the game, and that’s why we lost. The referee was shameful for this competition.’’
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