June 6, 2010 / 7:36 PM / 7 years ago

Uzbekistan's man in black a picture of calm

<p>Referee Ravshan Irmatov from Uzbekistan gestures during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games qualifying round soccer match between Qatar and Japan in Doha October 17, 2007. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad</p>

PRETORIA (Reuters) - Soft-spoken and serious, Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov was a picture of calm while a global media storm raged around him on Sunday.

Chosen by FIFA to referee the opening World Cup match between hosts South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg, Irmatov barely broke sweat at a leafy health retreat on the outskirts of Pretoria as the media interrogation bore down on his slender frame.

Irmatov, who was in charge of the 2008 Club World Cup final between Manchester United and Liga de Quito, knows the eyes of the world will be upon him on Friday but said he would take the pressure of the massive occasion in his stride.

These kind of pressure-packed games were the pinnacle of referee’s careers, he said.

“Every referee dreams of being at the World Cup, those that don’t have that dream are not professional referees,” he told Reuters during an open day for the media.

“And every referee wishes to officiate at the opening game and final of the World Cup. I didn’t expect it, but I will accept this very big joy.”

Cornered by clicking cameras as a growing gaggle of reporters hurled question after question under South Africa’s strong winter sunshine, Irmatov remained unflustered, puzzled at suggestions the pressure might get to him.

“We are not refereeing for the first time,” he said. “That’s why we are used to this atmosphere. We go and just do our job. Nothing extraordinary.”

Irmatov was named Asia’s top referee in 2009 for the second year running, an award that sparked scenes of wild celebration on his return to Tashkent.

Earning popularity and awards are the furthest thing from his mind in South Africa, however.

“Honestly I don’t think about these kind of things,” he said.

”I‘m concentrating on my matches, on my training and on my preparations.

“I‘m not thinking about my popularity.”

Editing by Justin Palmer

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