HÉCTOR Vergara will make history Friday at the 2010 FIFA World Cup of soccer in South Africa.
The 43-year-old from Winnipeg will tie the record for most World Cup games as a referee/assistant referee at 13 when he takes the field Friday in the match between Portugal and Brazil at Durban Stadium.
Vergara already holds the record for most World Cup games as an assistant referee with 12.
"No matter what I achieve in the World Cup, it will be fantastic for me because I never imagined in my wildest dreams having the opportunity to experience one World Cup, never mind three," said Vergara, who also worked at the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments.
He was able to speak with the Free Press in a special email interview which took place during FIFA's Open Day for media in Pretoria, South Africa earlier this week.
Vergara, also the executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association in Winnipeg, worked one earlier 2010 World Cup game -- the June 14 Group F opening match between defending World Cup champion Italy and Paraguay.
The second round begins Saturday leading up to the final on July 11. If Vergara can work two more matches, he could tie the record of 15 for the most games as a referee/assistant referee/fourth official. However, Vergara doesn't know if he will receive another assignment, since it is based on performance evaluation.
"We don't know when we arrive how many games we will get, we have to earn every appointment and don't know how many more we will get," said Vergara, who is part of an all CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) crew including referee Benito Archundia of Mexico and linesman Marvin Cesar Torrentera.
Vergara said he is honored to hold any FIFA officiating record but he is keeping it in perspective.
"Records are meant to be broken and I am sure someone will eventually surpass whatever records I set. As such, I am not putting a lot of emphasis on the records but more attention to trying to do the best that I can do to give great performances no matter how many games I get," Vergara said. "What means more to me is making my family, friends and the people of Manitoba proud. They are the ones that have been there for me from Day One and I want to do well for all of them."
Vergara has a successful history at past World Cups. In 2002 in South Korea and Japan, Vergara worked six matches. He worked five matches at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, including the semifinal between Italy and Germany.
In South Africa, Vergara is the only Canadian among an officiating crew of 84. He's the only Canadian expected to see the field during the tournament. Portugal's third goalie (Daniel Fernandez) is from Vancouver but likely won't play.
It will be the final World Cup for Vergara, who turns 44 in December, as FIFA has a mandatory retirement age of 45 for officials. The World Cup is held every four years.
He said his experience so far in South Africa, which began when he arrived in early June, has been "fantastic."
"We are all making history by refereeing in the first ever World Cup in the African continent. The people here have been great with us, very supportive, friendly, encouraging us to do well and making us feel at home," Vergara said. "We are working very hard every day but we are also trying to enjoy the experience. For some of us, it is our last opportunity to be on the field of play with the best in the world and we are enjoying every minute no matter how difficult the games may be."
Living in a safe house in an undisclosed location outside Johannesburg, Vergara and the other officials are doing daily physical training to maintain their fitness. An article on Vergara at www.macleans.ca said linesmen like Vergara run more than 15 kilometres in one game and change direction an average of every five to six seconds. All officials selected had to pass a gruelling fitness test.
Vergara was available for the email interview during the second Open Day arranged by FIFA for media to speak with officials. It was a 30-minute window and, outside of that, the media is not permitted to have contact with officials.
Urs Honauer, FIFA Media Officer for Refereeing Matters, told the Free Press that over 200 media participated in the first Open Day on June 6.