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Soccer-World Cup ref can restore pride for El Salvador

Reuters

By Nelson Renteria

SAN SALVADOR, April 3 (Reuters) - El Salvador soccer fans, hurting after life bans to 14 national team players for match fixing, will support the first Salvadorean referee and linesmen to go to the World Cup finals, a fan leader said.

Ivan Flores, who heads the Barra Azul that groups all national team fans, told Reuters the presence of Salvadorean match officials at the Brazil tournament would help heal El Salvador's wounds.

"We want to give the three match officials support and strength because they are going (to Brazil) representing El Salvador in the most important football event in the world," Flores said.

FIFA have chosen Salvadorean match officials for a World Cup finals for the first time, naming referee Joel Aguilar and linesmen William Torres and Juan Zumba, the country's first presence at the finals for more than 30 years.

"All of us who love football wish the national team to go to the World Cup. Given the choice between the team and a referee, everyone would pick the team, but I'm proud to be able to take part representing El Salvador," Aguilar told Reuters.

El Salvador have reached the finals twice, in Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1970.

The match officials' selection came as balsam for Salvadorean fans shocked by the scandal last year when the national federation handed life suspensions to 14 national team players for match fixing.

BY CHANCE

Aguilar, a 39-year-old physical training instructor, became a referee by chance, preferring to play the game as a central defender, but he was asked on one occasion to take charge of an amateur match because the official had not turned up.

"When I was asked to be the referee I said no at first because I liked playing and in fact had poor relations with referees because I got sent off every so often," Aguilar said.

But at the end of the match, one of the organisers approached him to pay him for a job well done and he decided then, for economic reasons, to take it up full time.

He recalled, amid laughter, the occasion when amateur players threatened to dump his body at a cemetery after he had awarded one of the teams a penalty and sent a player off.

Aguilar said his early experiences, some nasty, others happy, had helped him on the road to World Cup selection.

"I hope I can take charge of a match to the best of my ability and enjoy it to the full. Since it's been so tough getting to (the tournament), we want to do it as well as possible," he said.

FIFA picked seven central and south American referees for the June 12-July 13 finals in Brazil.

Aguilar is joined by Mexico's Marco Antonio Rodriguez, Chilean Enrique Osses, Argentine Nestor Pitana, Brazilian Sandro Ricci, Colombian Wilmar Roldan and Ecuador's Carlos Vera. (Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; editing by Martyn Herman)

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