Saturday’s Milan-Juventus game was billed as the game of the season. Yet afterwards there was only one topic of conversation, Sulley Muntari’s ‘goal’ that was not seen by the officials. From stress-related illnesses, to the president of UEFA criticising Juve’s keeper, there has been quite a fall-out from the incident.
Milan had dominated the match, leading through Antonio Nocerino’s deflected strike and looking comfortable against their shaken opponents. The key moment of the game came after a scramble in the Juve area ended with Sulley Muntari nodding the ball over the line, only for Gigi Buffon to parry the ball out. Referee Tagliavento initially moved his arm towards the centre circle to indicate a goal, but was over-ruled by his linesman. No goal. Juventus rallied and eventually equalised through Alessandro Matri’s smart finish inside the area. The game finished 1-1, leaving things as you were in the Scudetto race, with Milan leading by a point but la Vecchia Signora holding a game in hand (away to Bologna.)
That Sulley Muntari’s header crossed the line by a yard there can be no argument. And as we all know, the linesman over-ruled the referee and no goal was given. Had it been allowed, it would have made it 2-0 to Milan. But whether they would have gone on to win is by no means a certainty. What is certain, is that the whole dynamic of the game would have changed, and with the way the respective sides were playing, it’s hard to make a case for Juve getting back into the game. Later in the second half, the same linesman incorrectly adjudged Bianconeri forward Matri to be offside after he netted what he thought was an equaliser. And so the a debate commenced.
After the game, Antonio Conte became embroiled in a live TV row with former Milan midfielder Zvonimir Boban. After Boban argued that clearly both errors were of different ‘value’ (Milan going 2-0 ahead is different to Juve making it 1-1), Conte emphatically dismissed the Croat. ‘They are both technical errors, two goals are regular, yet you tell me that they were two different errors. What’s the difference? That goal was a goal and the other not? Two goals are regular, tell me what difference there is, I can not see it.’ The row carried on, Conte eventually apologising and a truce was called.
Gigi Buffon then caused national outrage with his declarations on the Muntari ‘goal’, telling viewers: “I didn’t realise it had gone over the line, and even if I did I wouldn’t have lent a hand to the referee.” Rather than praise for his honesty, Buffon has been almost universally condemned. Referee chief Marcello Nicchi stated ‘Everyone is free to think what they want but remember, young people take their cues from these examples.’ Even the president of UEFA Michel Platini waded in, saying ‘Buffon went too far with his words. If the referee had asked him and he had said ‘no’, then that would have figured him to be a liar.’
National team coach Cesare Prandelli leapt to the defence of his captain though: ‘Two or three days after the incident, everyone can say that the ball was in or not, but we can’t expect a player who is unsure to help the referee during such an important incident. He won‘t lose the captaincy.’
Aside from Buffon’s comments, the incident itself has caused heated debate in the peninsula. Milan Sporting Director Adriano Galliani had to leave San Siro citing ’stress’ from the incident, whilst club owner and disgraced politician Silvio Berlusconi stated: ‘I am more disappointed than angry. The result was falsified by that incident. If we’d gone 2-0 up, the situation would have been very different. Was the referee conditioned by Antonio Conte’s comments during the week? I really think so, yes. In any case, it was a mistake and I absolutely do not want to believe in a plot against Milan.’
The reference to Conte’s comments in the week is an interesting one. Conte spoke about how Juve had only been given one penalty this season and that referees had generally allowed decisions to go against the Turin giants, with many seeing this as deliberately putting pressure on the officials. Milan coach Max Allegri agreed with the majority, adding ‘I don’t believe the referees are affected by any sort of pressure. We can all make mistakes, so just as I can pick the wrong line-up or substitutions, they can miss a penalty incident.’
In the next few days, much more fall-out is expected from the game. Already Philippe Mexes has been banned for punching Marco Borriello away from the eyes of the officials, whilst both Andrea Pirlo and Sulley Muntari were acquited after being accused of throwing elbows. With a Coppa Italia Semi-Final 2nd leg is coming up in March as well as the race to the Scudetto to be decided, two clubs once famous for their civil relationship will be at loggerheads for the foreseeable future.