Norway FA defends referee amid Chelsea outrage

OSLO (AP) - Norway's football federation defended referee Tom Henning Ovrebo on Thursday in the face of alleged death threats and furious Chelsea protests over his performance in the English side's Champion's League elimination by Barcelona.

The 42-year-old Norwegian - a prospective referee for the 2010 World Cup - has been told not to speak to the media since Wednesday night's game at Stamford Bridge, said Rune Pedersen, the federation's refereeing boss.

"We, or UEFA, recommended that he lay low for a while," Pedersen told The Associated Press.

He said it "probably wouldn't be a good idea" for Ovrebo to address the outrage over some of his decisions right now.

Chelsea players angrily accused Ovrebo of missing several penalty and hand-ball decisions.

Barcelona, down to 10 men after one of its players was sent off, scored a late equalizer for a 1-1 draw that sent the Spanish side to the Champions League final against Manchester United on away goals.

"There were episodes that might be questioned, but all in all I think the leadership of the game was good," Pedersen said.

"We respect that Chelsea would question some of the decisions."

London's Evening Standard newspaper reported that death threats have been made over the Internet against Ovrebo.

Chelsea promised to take "the strongest action" against any fans found making threats, but said it had received no evidence of any threats.

Asked about the threats, Pedersen said "we have a good system for dealing with it" but didn't go into details.

Norwegian media said Pedersen and Ovrebo returned to Oslo on Thursday.

Oslo police spokeswoman Unni Groendal said they were monitoring the situation but not taking any special steps to protect the referee.

"There is an overall feeling of being robbed, injustice," Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink said after the match.

"In big games like this you need top-notch referees who have had big experience in the leagues of Spain, Italy, England and Germany."

UEFA general secretary David Taylor dismissed suggestions of a conspiracy to stop the dominance of English clubs and avoid a second successive all-Premier League Champions League final.

Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in last year's final in Moscow.

"If anything it's a media conspiracy against UEFA," said Taylor, a former chief executive of the Scottish Football Association.

"It does make me angry. It really annoys me because it's a load of rubbish."

Security officials had to restrain a cluster of angry Chelsea players from getting to the shaved-head referee as he walked off the pitch.

Striker Didier Drogba shouted "Disgrace," while swearing into a TV camera.

Chelsea winger Jose Bosingwa said Ovrebo should not be allowed to referee another game.

"I don't know if he's a referee or a thief," Bosingwa told Portuguese TV station RTP.

He retracted that comment Thursday in a statement on Chelsea's Web site, saying "We were all very disappointed and frustrated after the game, but I regret describing the referee as a thief."

Previous Champions League clashes between the two teams have also been marred by threats against referees.

In 2006, Chelsea fans sent death threats to Norwegian referee Terje Hauge on the club's Internet chat site after a 2-1 home loss to Barcelona.

Swedish referee Anders Frisk, who officiated a match between the teams a year earlier, retired after similar threats.

Ovrebo has made controversial decisions before. In last year's European Championship, he denied Italy the lead in a 1-1 draw with Romania, when Italian striker Luca Toni appeared to be wrongly deemed offside.

In 2001, Ovrebo received a one-match suspension in the Norwegian league for not red-carding Molde player Odd Inge Olsen for a nasty tackle that broke the leg of an opponent.

Still, Ovrebo, who holds a degree in psychology, is highly respected in Norway where he's won the Kniksen Prize for the league's top referee five times.

Last year FIFA listed him among 38 prospective referees for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Before Wednesday's semifinal, Ovrebo said he was surprised that the Norwegian officiating team was picked for such a big match.

"But I feel confident that we will handle the match in a good way," Ovrebo told the Web site of the Norwegian football association. - AP

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