Fiorentina were the latest victims of the away goals rule as they succumbed to an exit from the Champions League despite picking up a deserved win.
There was a lot of anger and frustration last night in Florence as the Viola paid for Miroslav Klose’s offside goal with elimination from European competition. The game was a tremendous advertisement for football but it was ultimately determined by the ‘away goals’, as Bayern advanced to the next stage of the competition thanks to the two goals they scored on the night. Cesare Prandelli’s men may have won the game but they left the field feeling truly dejected and downcast. It seemed unfair for a team which had performed so well over two legs, won six of their eight games to be knocked out solely because of a refereeing error. A similar case could be made for Chelsea’s elimination at the hands of Barcelona last year where curiously the same referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo, was in charge.
Earlier this week, the Internaional Football Association Board (IFAB) declared that the game will be staying clear of technology for the immediate future. The IFAB has discouraged the use of goal-line technology in a move that is likely to turn up the pressure on the officials. This non-committal approach by the game’s governing body is a disservice to fans of the world’s most popular sport. It is clear that the authorities want to prevent the use of technology for as far as possible and this only means that incidents like the Klose goal/ Henry handball will continue to plague the game. In light of these events, it then makes sense to level the playing field by overhauling some other rules. The ‘away goals’ rule has been in place for a long time now but it has always been responsible for stifling attacking play.
Last night after Bayern scored their second goal through Arjen Robben’s scorcher, the team was content to soak up pressure from Fiorentina due to the security the away goals offered. A match which was turning out to be a real classic at 3-2 ended up being one dimensional and a case and closed up because of the rule. Over the years we have seen many instances when the deciding factor at the end of the tie has been the away goal, fairly or unfairly scored. Furthermore, the away goals rule also limits the action should a period of extra time ensue, as the home team is overly cautious not to concede again. The added 30 minutes almost always end up being the most defensive affair of football one has ever seen. The ‘Golden Goal’ rule and the ‘Silver Goal’ rule were scrapped by authorities due to this very factor, so it may be time that they start reassessing the away goals rule as well.
England’s League Cup has an interesting format whereby away goals are considered only at the end of extra-time and not at the end of normal time. This saw Manchester United continue attacking their city rivals in the recent semi-final clash despite, going 1-0 up at home and enjoying the benefit of the away goal in a 2-1 defeat. In the Champions League, it may have been expected of the Red Devils to sit back and protect their lead but here the game finally ended 3-1 in United’s favour. Such a framework encourages a team to go and get the required result in regulation time than face the tiring extra-time. Looking at the their present stubbornness it is unlikely that the IFAB would be ever change their ways, but to retain football’s excitement a change in the ‘away goals’ rule is definitely worth considering.