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September 25, 2017

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Referee controversies mar World Cup's Asia qualifiers

SINGAPORE -- Australia coach Holger Osieck voiced disbelief at a "very, very dubious" sending-off as the spotlight again fell on refereeing standards in Asia's World Cup qualifiers.

Osieck was scathing about Saudi official Khalil Al Ghamdi's dismissal of Mark Milligan, for a second yellow card, which proved a key moment in Tuesday's thrilling 1-1 draw with Japan.

"I can't blame him at all," Osieck said of Milligan, who was ruled to have brought down Japan's Atsuto Uchida in the 55th minute at Brisbane Stadium.

"That was a very, very dubious call from the referee. It was a cross inside and he clearly went to the ball and didn't even touch him.

"How could he give a red card for that? It was beyond my comprehension."

Japan's Yuzo Kurihara scored the opening goal 10 minutes later before Luke Wilkshire equalized from the penalty spot, following Uchida's slight tug on striker Alex Brosque.

And Japan also had cause to grumble when Al Ghamdi handed goal-scorer Kurihara a debatable second yellow, sending him off late in the game. He later blew the final whistle as Keisuke Honda lined up a free kick — sparking consternation on the visitors' bench.

The latest controversy follows a complaint by FIFA Vice President Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan about refereeing in Asia's final qualifying phase for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which kicked off last week.

"It is certainly a highly important matter worth addressing with my colleagues on the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) executive committee," he said in a statement.

"We are in need of a thorough assessment of our refereeing system as an integral part of competitions in Asia."

Last week, Uzbekistan complained they were robbed of a goal in the 1-0 loss to Iran when Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura failed to spot the ball crossing the line — a claim backed up by TV replays. Coach Vadim Abramov was sacked after the defeat.

There was no immediate response from FIFA to Tuesday's events, but a spokesman for the world body, reacting to the Uzbek incident, last week told AFP that a referee's decisions were regarded as final.

Asia's final qualifying round wraps up next June, with the top two in both groups of five winning an automatic berth at Brazil 2014.

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