Scrap the away goals rule!
Sport24 columnist Herman Mostert (File)
As we head into semi-finals week in the Champions League, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for a few classy outfits missing out on having a shot at winning Europe’s premier football showpiece event.
While Bayern Munich v Barcelona is no doubt a mouth-watering semi-final prospect, sure to attract attention from all corners of the globe, it pains me to say that both teams reached this stage of the tournament with the help of a rule I find somewhat unfair: UEFA’s away goals rule.
The rule, which allows the team with the most away goals to progress in the event of a draw over a two-legged tie, is no doubt put in place to encourage attacking football from both sides, which obviously leads to a more attractive game and presumably more excitement all round.
But is there really more excitement?
For me, watching a game head to extra-time and penalties is a lot more exciting than seeing a team progress after being unable to beat their opponents outright.
For instance, were the Catalans really better than Paris Saint-Germain over their two-legged quarter-final? The first tie at Parc des Princess finished in an exhilarating 2-2 draw after Blaise Matuidi's goal deep into stoppage time handed the French side a deserved draw on April 2.
Then, in the second leg at the Camp Nou, they largely held their own against supposedly the world’s best team. Nestor Pastore put PSG into a deserved 1-0 lead (3-2 aggregate) shortly after half-time which silenced the near-100 000 capacity crowd. As things stood Barcelona, looking slightly lacklustre, were out unless they could find an equaliser.
Had it not been for the arrival of Lionel Messi, who was benched for the game following an injury hassle, Barcelona may never have claimed that equalising goal. But the diminutive Argentine’s arrival instantly forced Barca onto the front foot and when Pedro lashed home 19 minutes from time the hosts were suddenly in the driver’s seat in a game they had hardly dominated. Barcelona, with the help of boisterous home support, held on for a 1-1 draw, which saw them advance courtesy of those two away goals from the previous leg in Paris.
And this is what upsets me, as I couldn’t convince myself that Barcelona were truly better than PSG after the two legs. After all, they had not been victorious in any of the two games! So how can they deserve to advance?
A much better, and yes, more exciting scenario would have been to play extra-time with possible penalties ensuing after that. At least then both sides would have received an opportunity to get a shot at being lucky.
Barca’s opponents in Tuesday’s semi-final first leg at the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich, had themselves reached this stage after beating Arsenal on away goals in the Round of 16. The German side outplayed the Gunners 3-1 in the first leg in London on February 19, but were then themselves on the receiving end of a 2-0 home drubbing in Munich three weeks later.
The scores were level 3-3 on aggregate, but Bayern went through thanks to one more away goal. They couldn’t even score at home - something Arsenal at least managed - but still advanced.
It was clear to me after that leg that Arsenal, as bad as they were at home three weeks previously, did not deserve to go out like that, not after winning 2-0 at the Allianz Arena. Extra-time would have been fitting for that tie.
Similar “unfair” away goals results from recent years which spring to mind include Chelsea’s agonising semi-final exit at the hands of the self-same Barcelona in 2009. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in the first leg at the Camp Nou before Chelsea dominated the second leg at Stamford Bridge and Michael Essien’s thunderous left-foot volley put Chelsea 1-0 up. However, the Londoners were unable to add to that first half scorcher, largely due to a controversial performance from Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who turned down at least four clear-cut penalty claims from the home side.
Andres Iniesta scored a stoppage-time equaliser to level the aggregate score at 1-1, but Barcelona went through because of that one away goal they scored in the 93rd minute of the second leg!
Ovrebo’s shocking performance aside, Barcelona did not deserve to go through because they had drawn 1-1 with Chelsea after two legs. They then won the Champions League, beating Manchester United 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in the final.
Manchester United were also on the wrong end of a cruel away goals decision three seasons ago. Alex Ferguson’s men, who lost the first leg 2-1 in Munich, stormed into a 3-0 lead in the return leg at Old Trafford. However, Bayern fought back with two goals, aided by the sending off of United’s Rafael da Silva, to lose the game 3-2, but went through courtesy of scoring one more goal at the home of their opponents.
While it’s probably true that these results even out for teams over the years, I’d still like to see a change in the rules as I believe extra-time and penalties would just add to the excitement of an already glittering tournament.
And with Barca and Bayern - two teams who have certainly been aided by this rule in recent times - squaring off in the semi-finals over the next week and a bit, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them suffer agony without actually losing outright before the May 25 final.Champions League semi-final fixtures:
Tuesday, April 23: Bayern Munich v Barcelona - Allianz Arena - 20:45
Wednesday, April 24: Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid - Signal Iduna Park - 20:45
Tuesday, April 30: Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund - Santiago Bernabeu - 20:45
Wednesday, May 1: Barcelona v Bayern Munich - Camp Nou - 20:45Herman Mostert works at Sport24 - and fancies himself as a bit of a tennis player and soccer writer...Disclaimer:
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