Yes, Bayern Munich beat Real Madrid on penalties in the 2nd leg of the UEFA Champions League semi – finals, and earned the right to play the final to be held at their home ground, the Allianz Arena, on the 19th of May. On a closer and more technical review of the game, there was a very interesting sub-plot to the whole 120 minutes of open play and beyond. That of the away goals rule.
The opening 30 minutes were played at a frantic pace – Real Madrid gaining the upper hand with a harsh penalty decision and then a clinical finish by Cristiano Ronaldo. But once Toni Kroos’ cross from the right wing earned Bayern a penalty (which Robben was lucky to score from), the game went into a shell. Bayern and Real were now level on aggregate, and if the scoreline remained the same, we would be going into extra time and penalties.
Real Madrid became over-cautious, fearful of committing too many men forward and thus being caught on the break. For if Bayern were to score again, Real would need 2 goals to progress. The well-drilled Bayern team, on the other hand, played a controlled and waiting game, relying on their 2 wing wizards, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, to conjure up some magic for Mario Gomez to gobble up.
None of this happened, and the game fizzled out for the rest 60 minutes of normal time. 30 minutes of extra time also didn’t help in separating these 2 great European club teams. Thus it came down to the lottery of penalties, a situation which both teams at that time must have been happy to accept. And in the shootout, we all know that German efficiency trumped Spanish flair.
Thus, another blockbuster European night was dominated by the spectre of the away goals rule. As a neutral, it was heartbreaking to see 2 teams with such attacking flair curbing their natural instincts for pragmatism.
The away goals rule was introduced in the 1960’s and was hailed as a game-changing addition to the continental competitions. At that time, I admit it was significant, for away sides had to endure long journeys and alien conditions to play in their opponents den. Also, the away goals rule signalled the end of replays (which would take place if the 2 teams were level on aggregate. Replays are still common in the FA Cup, where this is no away goals rule.), which were economically unviable.
But that was then. Much has changed since then. Better communication and transport facilities and the advent of technology has made the gap between continental clubs seem insignificant and redundant.
Nearly 5 decades later, the away goals rule continues to influence European nights. They say it is better to lose 2-1 than 1-0, even better to lose 3-2 than 2-1 (A loss should, after all, remain a loss) . It has made teams playing away in the 1st leg play an overly defensive brand of football, hoping to nick an away goal on the counter and swing the tie in their favour. At the same time, even home teams in the 1st legs are increasingly willing to settle for a 0-0 draw, content in the fact that if they do manage to score away in the 2nd leg, they would be in pole position to progress. Thus, all in all, 1st legs are generally cagey affairs. The excitement is reserved for the 2nd leg.
Being a Manchester United fan, I recall a classic example of the away goals rule ruining some of the best football I’ve seen United play in Europe. 2010 Champions League quarter – final 2nd leg at Old Trafford vs Bayern Munich ( Statistically, Bayern has been the team to have benefited the most from the away goals rule in the knockout stages of the Champions League. )
Trailing 2-1 from the 1st leg at the Allianz Arena, United went 3-0 up within the 1st 30 minutes with a Darron Gibson strike and a brace from Nani ( The 1st a delightful backheel from an Antonio Valencia cross). Bayern pulled one back before half-time through Ivica Olic , and panic set in in the United ranks. A needless red card for Rafael followed, and Bayern realized they just had to keep their calm and score once to progress. A man disadvantage proved too much for United to counter. The match winner was the best Champions League strike I’ve seen live, Arjen Robben volleying directly from just inside the box from a Ribery corner.
Thus, United, after a superb 1st half performance, were eliminated on the away goals rule.
I wish to emphasize that the comfort and confidence the away goals rule gives to the away side makes European footballing nights less about adrenaline, more about tactics.
I suggest the abolishment of the away goals rule and the introduction of the Golden Goal to European nights, if the tie finishes level on aggregate. (Remember Senegal in the 2002 World Cup?) 30 minutes of extra time in which the Golden Goal is applicable, which if unable to separate the 2 sides, takes the game to penalties.
This tweak in the rules would make the game a lot more interesting to the average spectator and would go a long way in enhancing the beauty of The Beautiful Game. Yes, tactical supremacy on the pitch would still be key, but so would be the focus on attack and not only containment.
The away goals rule is an archaic and outdated rule that has taken the beauty out of European football to a large extent. Football matches should be won on out-scoring opponents, independent on which team has scored where.