Ref with love-hate relationships

Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben (left) receives the yellow card from referee Howard Webb during their...

Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben (left) receives the yellow card from referee Howard Webb during their Champions League semifinal match against Real Madrid in Munich on April 17, 2012. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:34 PM ET

English referee Howard Webb described the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain as the most difficult two hours of his life.

In what was likely the dirtiest World Cup final ever played, Webb whistled a foul once every two minutes and issued 14 cautions plus an ejection while being scrutinized for a handful of shocking decisions that could have changed the complexion of the match.

It didn't get any easier immediately after the Cup final. The policeman from the north of England was jeered during the medal ceremony at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa for his handling of the game.

Almost two years later, he faced another difficult hour during an FA Cup tie between Premier League clubs Tottenham and Bolton.

"There was a numb sensation about what (I'd) witnessed," Webb said in recalling Fabrice Muamba's now iconic in-game cardiac arrest, a life-or-death situation where the Englishman's prompt decision-making is credited with saving the 24-year-old's life.

A lot of responsibility and influence accompanies a man overseeing 22 players as the world looks on.

Back for his second consecutive UEFA Euro tournament, in the wake of what the Dutch hailed as a disaster at the 2010 World Cup final, all eyes will be on Webb as he looks to shed his label as an inconsistent official on the world stage -- something that has haunted him for the better part of four years.

In charge of his first ever Euro match in 2008, Webb kicked off his international Cup career with what the Poles hailed as a travesty during their second group stage game against Austria.

With Poland up 1-0 deep in second-half stoppage time, Webb pointed to the spot for what appeared to be a harmless tug on Sebastian Prodl's Austrian kit during a free-kick just outside the box.

The 2008 co-hosts would level the proceedings off the ensuing penalty kick in the 93rd minute to keep their chances at progression alive -- and just about kill Poland's dreams of securing passage to the last eight.

"F------ disgrace, English referees," then Poland coach Leo Beenhakker was heard screaming at Webb following the match. As a result, Webb wasn't called upon to referee a knockout-phase game.

While there are many players who have failed to perform for both club and country, Webb is viewed as a refereeing god in the Football Association (England's governing body of soccer) but as a villain during international play, especially by the Spanish and Dutch.

After the 2010 World Cup final, news organizations from both countries labelled Webb's performance as "abysmal," accusing the Englishman of favouritism in Johannesburg.

Although favouritism likely wasn't a good choice of words, abysmal was near spot on. The Englishman's decision to allow the Netherlands' Nigel De Jong to remain on the pitch following a flying karate-like kick to Xabi Alonso's chest set a precedent that quickly saw him lose control of the match.

It was former Dutch coach Rinus Michels who said, "Football is war," but De Jong's challenge that night in South Africa would have earned two sending-offs and a hefty fine anywhere else in the world.

For Webb, it was a challenge worthy of a first-half caution and a stern talking to.

Webb is one of 12 referees from 12 European nations selected to officiate this edition of the continent's biggest tournament, and at least three nations are hoping to avoid the man many consider to be the second coming of Italy's Pierluigi Collina.

Think of it as the game inside the game -- officials in this tournament have the power to bring an entire populace to its knees.

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