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 Friday, September 13, 2002 17:02 EST

Moreno's Cup officiating in question

[Associated Press]

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Byron Moreno, the Ecuadorean referee blamed by some for Italy's early exit from the World Cup, is being investigated by FIFA.

Moreno was suspended for 20 matches by Ecuadorean soccer authorities Wednesday for adding 13 minutes of overtime to a domestic game last weekend and not registering it.

Italian players and their fans blamed poor Moreno for their nation's 2-1 overtime loss to South Korea in the second round of the World Cup in June.

In overtime of that game, Moreno ejected Francesco Totti for what the referee believed was an intentional dive in the penalty box. Moreno also made a questionable offsides call that disallowed what would have been a winning goal for Italy's Damiano Tommasi in the 111th minute.

"As a result of a number of controversies regarding referee Byron Moreno in Japan, Italy and South America over the past few months, FIFA has decided to launch an investigation into the affair,'' soccer's governing body said in a statement Friday.

"I'm very pleased that FIFA has decided to open this case so that all these situations can be clarified once and for all,'' Moreno said later Friday in Ecuador. "This is the chance for the whole world to know that the conduct of Byron Moreno has always followed the rules and that none of the dirty accusations against me are true.''

Moreno's ban in the Ecuadorean League followed Sunday's game between Barcelona Guayaquil, the country's most popular club, and Liga de Quito.

Moreno added 13 minutes of overtime, during which Quito rallied from two goals down to win 4-3. But the referee reported the game lasted only 90 minutes, according to a federation inspector. If Moreno is found guilty of misinforming the federation, he could be suspended permanently.

The referee is running for city council in Quito, Ecuador's capital, and some have suggested he allowed overtime to gain favor from Liga de Quito fans. Moreno said he didn't deliberate misrepresent the match time and that he would take his case to FIFA, if necessary.

Italian soccer federation president Franco Carraro wrote to FIFA president Sepp Blatter two weeks ago seeking an investigation after a Japanese news report alleged corruption involving the referee.

"We're satisfied that the request has been accepted,'' Italian federation spokesman Antonello Valentini said.

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