"The performance of my assistants was disastrous"

Gamal Ahmed Al-Ghandour is not easy to locate. Egypt is a giant country and the referee of the controversial South Korea-Spain World Cup 2002 (0-0 and defeat on penalties) is a very popular and requested face. And not only because of those mistakes that, surely, prevented our team from reaching the semi-finals of the Asian event.

Al-Ghandour and this journalist have known each other for years – the day after the game I interviewed him at Narita airport (Tokyo) -. There is confidence and, once put into action, the former Egyptian has no problem talking about what he considers “excellent refereeing”. So he repeats it to us 20 years later. There are two decades that are met on June 22. 20 years that are remembered with rage here, since Spain, directed by José Antonio Camacho, was left at the gates of the first four in the Korean-Japanese World Cup.

We found it!

After a few calls, we found Gamal in a hotel in Cairo, where he was attending an engagement in his current job as a commentator for Bein Sports. “The one in Korea -he tells us- was my second World Cup after directing three games in France 98. And I think that in 2002 I had a better performance, always clarifying the following: I speak of my own decisionsof what I decided, without taking responsibility for my assistants”.

The architects of that mob were the Ugandan assistant ali tomusang and the main artist, the one who whistled for the goal kick behind Joaqun’s center, the mythical Michael Ragonath, from Trinidad and Tobago. “The truth is that the performance of the two was disastrous”, shoots Al-Ghandour.

The performance of my assistants was disastrous; the only debatable play was Morientes’ goal

Gamal Al-Ghandour (Korea-Spain referee)

The controversial plays

Let’s put the controversial moves in order. Back in the 90’s, there was a Ivn Helguera goal disallowed for alleged lack of ste. It is not well known why. Gamal tells us from Cairo: “I agree. It was a clear foul and there was even another Spanish foul on that play. It was well annulled.”

Already in extra time (0-0), in the second minute, the aforementioned most scandalous move came. The disallowed goal for Morientes, which would have led to the Spanish triumph, as Ragoonath considered that Joaqun’s ball near the bottom line had gone out. “The mistakes of my assistants should not be counted towards my performance,” Gamal insists.

Not everything stays there. There was three very doubtful offsides by Joaqun (minute 99), Morientes (110′) and Mendieta (113′) -the first two had been left alone in front of the goalkeeper- which ended with one last decision: the extension ends at 120′, when Spain was going to take a corner.

Since then, our character has not spoken or heard from his assistants: “I think the Ugandan was in the African arbitration commission, but I did not know anything else. Curiously, two days after the game, we had a meeting with FIFA and we agreed in what My only mistake, as the main referee, was not to get the red card from the Spanish [De Pedro o Mendieta, no recuerda] for a violent entrance where I only got yellow.

I haven’t heard from them again, but FIFA, after analyzing my personal performance, gave me a grade of 8.7

The Spanish fans will always remember his arbitration. 20 years later, not a single Spaniard with a certain soccer memory will forget what, for many, was a “historic robbery”. Al-Ghandour tells us: “In 2019 I visited Spain for a TV program and I think that, since then, my public image in your country has changed. and the Spaniards could see that I was not mistaken and that the errors were clearly those of my assistants. I think the perception of La Roja fans changed after that program.”

play after play

Al-Ghandour refers to the documentary series ‘The Others’, with Antoni Daimiel, which Movistar broadcast in 2019. “I was with López Nieto -the Spanish referee in the 2002 World Cup- and we explained the mistakes that were made in that game. We put a for one all the controversial actions and people are no longer against me… or at least I think so. In fact, in that same World Cup, in Spain-Paraguay, I gave them a penalty and nobody remembers that… yes everything that happened before Korea. It didn’t look like a penalty and only I saw it. The images later showed that it was Ral’s penalty”, says Gamal. Spain won 3-1 and that maximum penalty was the last Spanish goal (Hierro).

“The Spanish -comments Al-Ghandour- cannot blame me for that defeat against Korea, because, before finishing the game, they had several clear chances. They could have finished the victory before reaching the penalty shootout. In a game, only the main referee is judged, but sometimes we cannot support the decisions of our assistants. I confirm myself: I made an excellent arbitration. In fact, FIFA gave me an 8.7 out of 10 that day.”

The proof that I had a good performance is that during the match no Spaniards came to protest against me.

the only mistake

“Analyzing the plays -he continues-, for me there is only one debatable decision and that is the disallowed goal, since Joaqun’s center could not have left the field. That’s the main point of discussion.”

It was so serious that, since that match, FIFA modified the criteria in the designation of the arbitration trios. Since then, the three main referees, plus the fourth, are usually from the same country to facilitate communication and rapport between them and to avoid that explosive mixture of an Egyptian, a Ugandan and a Trinidadian, which cost Spain elimination. of Camacho. “Of course, with VAR there would have been no mistake and perhaps Spain would have reached the semi-finals“, Gamal tells us.

Interestingly, the former Egyptian referee claims to be a lover of our country: “It’s a shame that this happened to me, because both I and my family love Spain. My children are great fans of Real Madrid and they have enjoyed La Decimocuarta a lot. It makes me sad because IEven when it was the final of the Nations League, between Spain and France, and there was a refereeing error that led to Mbapp’s goal, the Spanish, on social networks, said that it was my faultthat I was in the VAR [risas]”.

“They didn’t protest me”

Gamal continues the story: “The proof that my arbitration was not so bad is that, during the match, the La Roja players did not protest me, but only my assistants. They all went against them, not against me. No one claimed anything from me during the game. One more proof that I put on a good performance“, proudly points out the Egyptian, 20 years after that controversy.

It’s a shame that this happened to me with Spain because my children are big fans of Real Madrid

And so this story ends, with an Al-Ghandour who, thanks to his refereeing career, which is not based on this match obviously, he is a star in his country and makes a living, among other things, with his comments on television.

Al-Ghandour keeps the shirt from that match. MARCA asked him to show it in a photograph, but Gamal thought it was… too much: “I am proud of what I did, personally, in that meeting, but I don’t want to stir up the susceptibility of Spanish fans either.that they can start to remember me again on the networks”, he indicates from Cairo with some caution.


The cover of MARCA the day after that June 22, 2002 headlined “Da asco”, and it was not only because of the arbitration suffered by Camacho’s men. Let us remember that Spain was playing against one of the hosts, Hiddink’s Korea, which reached its historic World Cup peak. Days before, the Koreans had eliminated Italy in the round of 16 with another controversial arbitration by the Ecuadorian Byron Moreno (2-1 in extra time).

In 2015, within the framework of the investigation by the United States Department of Justice into FIFA for multiple corruption issues, that party, Korea-Spain, returned to the center of public attention as several officials of the organization exposed for corruption were involved in its organization. It has nothing to do with what happened in the field, surely, but it is one more reason for controversy. A controversy that does not end 20 years later. And if not, watch again… the summary of that game.

His present: from referee commissioner in his past… to star of Bein Sports in Cairo

Gamal Al-Ghandour is a well-known character in his country. He was when he was refereed in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and he still is today. Not in vain, in refereeing circles in Africa he is considered one of the best on the continent in all history. At Euro 2000, and not being European, he managed two group stage matches in Belgium and the Netherlands. After retiring from it, he was arbitration commissioner of the Egyptian Federation on several occasions, although he left it a few months ago due to discrepancies with the leadership. Currently, he is one of the star commentators of ‘Bein Sports’, at the Egyptian level. A familiar face… and recognized.

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