LONDON, May 8 – Didier Drogba on Thursday apologised for his furious confrontation with referee Tom Henning Ovrebo in the wake of Chelsea's stormy Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Barcelona.The striker faces potentially severe sanctions from UEFA over his conduct, which was aggravated by him screaming into a television camera that the official had been a "fucking disgrace," forcing some broadcasters to apologise to viewers watching the match live.
In a statement published on Chelsea’s website, Drogba said: "I was very upset at what happened during the game, but having seen the pictures on TV I accept that I overreacted."
"I also accept that the language I used did not set a good example for those watching at home, especially children.
"I regret that in the heat of the moment I let out my incredible frustration and disappointment in this way, and for that I apologise."
Drogba, who had been substituted in the second half, was shown a yellow card for coming onto the pitch to vent his fury at Ovrebo after the final whistle.
He was incensed at the referee’s refusal to award Chelsea two spot-kicks in the first half at Stamford Bridge when he and Florent Malouda were brought down.
The Norwegian official, who had to be smuggled out of Britain on Thursday because of police fears for his safety, also rejected two handball penalty appeals after the break when Gerard Pique handled as Nicolas Anelka tried to go past him and in the final seconds when Michael Ballack’s shot hit Samuel Eto’o’s arm.
That last claim came after Andres Iniesta had lashed home a 93rd-minute leveller for Barcelona to cancel out Michael Essien’s opener and put the Catalans into the final against Manchester United on the away goals rule.
Chelsea welcomed Drogba’s display of contrition — in sharp contrast to the backing the Ivorian had received after the match from club captain John Terry and manager Guus Hiddink.
A club statement read: "Chelsea welcomes Didier’s statement today which was made honestly and after reflection.
"We are all acutely aware of the responsibilities that lie with both the club and its players towards setting a good example as role models."
Fearing reprisals from furious fans, police changed Ovrebo’s hotel on Wednesday night before organising his hasty exit from the country on Thursday morning, according to former international referee Graham Poll.
Poll said: "He’s been smuggled out of our country under police escort – this is a referee of a football match. That is a disgrace."
Ovrebo’s situation has worrying echoes of the hounding of Swedish referee Anders Frisk, who retired from the game in 2005 after receiving death threats in the wake of another ill-tempered meeting between Chelsea and Barcelona.
Hiddink, who attempted to restrain Drogba, acknowledged that the striker’s conduct was close to the limit of what is acceptable but said he understood his frustration over what he described as the worst refereeing performance he had seen in his long career.
"People say he should be in control. The moment a player starts hitting then he is going beyond where he should go," Hiddink said.
"I can understand his emotion and his behaviour after the game. I will protect that."
Terry appeared to suggest that Ovrebo’s handling of the match was influenced by a perceived desire by UEFA to avoid another all-English final.
"I’m fully behind Didier. The fact is the referee is the one who should face the consequences," he said.
UEFA will decide on Friday what action to take after seeing Ovrebo’s match report.
The governing body’s General Secretary, David Taylor, dismissed any suggestion that Chelsea’s exit reflected the governing body’s desire to avoid another all-English final.
Ovrebo undeniably made a string of errors but Barcelona were also victims of his poor decision-making with Eric Abidal sent off 25 minutes from the end for tripping Nicolas Anelka, who actually tripped himself up.
Taylor, who was at the match at Stamford Bridge, said he was angered by the implication that UEFA would try to influence the outcome of a match.
"If anything it’s a media conspiracy against UEFA," he said. "It does make me angry. It really annoys me because it’s a load of rubbish."