For the teams in the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup there were stories of unexpected success such as the New Zealand team which did not qualify for the second stage but went home to a hero’s welcome as an undefeated team in a group which included the 2006 World Champions Italy.

For Italy, South Africa was a disaster. Lippi’s team finished bottom of the group and went home to widespread criticism.

Ghana, who came so close to qualifying for the semi finals, went home to the acclaim, not just of Ghana, but of Africa. Uruguay were the top South American team and went home with their pride intact and with the top player in the tournament in Diego Forlan.

Germany, a young team with great potential for 2014, finished in third place while England were major under achievers in a tournament they thought they could win.

There were other winning teams in South Africa.

The all Asian team which refereed the semi final between Uruguay and Holland was one of them.

Ravshan Irmatov from Uzbekistan had a fantastic tournament. He refereed the first match and after another three appointments, including the high profile quarter final between Argentina and Germany, was appointed to referee the semi final clash between Netherlands and Uruguay.

His fellow Uzbek, assistant referee Rafael Ilyasov also had a great tournament starting from the fantastic decision he made in the opening match to disallow a Mexican goal for offside.

The fourth official was Yuichi Nishimura of Japan, an AFC Elite Referee. He refereed the potential powder keg match quarter final between Netherlands and Brazil with great skill and his reward was to be appointed as the fourth official to the Netherland v Uruguay semi final. He was then appointed to act as fourth official in the World Cup Final between Spain and Netherlands. A fantastic achievement.

The real hero in the team, however, was Bahadyr Kochkarov, the assistant referee from Kyrgystan. His heroism was not only on the field but off it.

While Kochkarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was running the line in the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg, his family were hiding in the basement of his house in his strife-torn home city of Osh.

His wife, eight-year-old son and elderly mother spent two days there, fearing for their lives as mobs went on the rampage from June 10-14 against the minority ethnic Uzbek population.

 “The turmoil in Kyrgyzstan happened on the night of June 10 but I only found this out early the next day when I received many SMS messages from friends and relatives,” Kochkarov said

Kochkarov was part of Uzbek Ravshan Irmatov’s refereeing team at the FIFA World Cup and the trio received praise for their performance in the pressure-filled opening match.

Indeed, they went on to officiate in a record-equaling four more matches at the tournament, including the semi-final between Netherlands and Uruguay.

As soon as the match finished, Kochkarov made desperate attempts to contact his family.

“I only managed to reach my wife and family members after the match. Thank God, everything was okay in the end. And my house was still in one piece,” said Kochkarov.

Still, it was a traumatic experience for the 40-year-old assistant, having to keep his emotions in check while his city burned.

He was fulfilling a life-long dream to be involved in the World Cup while at the same time, the lives of those closest to him were in danger thousands of miles away.

The choices he had to make were harder and more important than deciding whether or not a player was marginally offside.

“I read the news on the Internet and kept in touch with my family everyday while I was in South Africa. But even then, as a husband, a son and a man, I couldn’t help but worry about my family, relatives and friends.

Despite the emotional distress, Kochkarov fulfilled his touchline duties expertly and his team, with Irmatov taking the lead, was among the best trios at the World Cup.

“I had prepared for my World Cup debut for years and I was dying to be involved in this world football extravaganza. No matter how worried I was, I still wanted to go and do my job in a professional manner,” he said.

“I was completely focused on my work even though I was desperate to see my family with my own eyes. If I had lost my focus, I don’t think I would have been able to continue until the semi-final.”

He said the Kyrgyzstan problem had no effect on his relationship with Uzbeks Irmatov and Ilyasov.

“We are all family. We have mutual respect for each other; we have telepathic communication and understanding between each other too. In short, our relationship is special.

 “In fact, both of them and fellow referees were fully supportive of me in one of the most difficult times of my life. I truly appreciate their concern, help, encouragement … everything.”

After the situation calmed down in Osh and other parts of South Kyrgyzstan, Kochkarov was able to reflect on his performances at the World Cup.

Overall, he was satisfied and felt that his presence in South Africa may have helped to lift the spirits of the Kyrgyz people, even a little, in the aftermath of the riots.

“Many people around the world only realised there was a country called Kyrgyzstan after this … for the wrong reason,” he said.

“However, I am happy that I managed to play a small part to help my country. Actually, there are more positives than negatives about my small country.”

Forget about Forlan, Kaka, Schweinsteiger and Messi as the top people in South Africa 2010.

The real top man in South Africa came from Kyrgyzstan and carried a flag.

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