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Away goals: A plague to the beautiful game?

On a very anticipated Tuesday night, in front of a massive 90,000+ Blaugaranas in the Nou Camp, Mbaye Niang sprung clear of the Barcelona defense, and just had Victor Valdes to beat. A goal at that stage would stand supreme as Milan would then have got the all important ‘away goal’. But a post stood between Milan and the quarterfinals. The goal wouldn’t just add a ’1′ in front of Milan’s name that night, it would have changed the complexion of the entire game. Barcelona, as usual, bossed proceedings from the word ‘GO’. With a lion’s share of possession, it did seem that the match was theirs to loose. Milan didn’t have much purpose about their play as they had an enormous task at hand, silencing the Catalans for 90 odd minutes.

Niang’s miss proved to be costly, but would it have changed the game if his strike kissed the back of the net? Would we have seen a panicked Jordi Roura do the rounds at the by-line? Would we have seen a determined Iniesta having to put his ‘hand on the fire’ at the end of the game? That , ladies and gentlemen, has brought us to the protagonist of this article, the necessary evil: Away goals.

Let’s shift our focus back to the Barcelona vs Milan tie. In the dying minutes of the game, Robinho stood over the free-kick. With names such as Mexes, Zapata, Montolivo and the ever so lively Boateng waiting in the box, he decided to play it short to the already impatient Muntari. He fumbled on the ball and gave the ball away to Barcelona, who on the counter are like a pack of unapologetic wolves. Messi to Alexis to Alba to GOAL. As simple as that.

Now, what if Robinho had given in a delightful ball, that flickered in with the touch of genius by Mexes? What if Zapata keeps the ball in play, and the ultimate opportunist Boateng, pounces on it to make it 3-1 on the night? All these scenarios would have meant that Barcelona, who were at their sublime best on the night, were undone by a mere rule who’s existence was to make football ever so competitive.

On the same night, Schalke and Galatasaray locked horns at an extremely packed  Gelsenkirchen. The game was all Schalke, as the home team dominated from the first whistle, taking the deserved lead via an unlikely source. No sooner was the ball in the back of the net, an old Schalke favourite, Hamit Altintop thundered a strike from 30 yards out to make it even on aggregate. No sooner after their second goal went in via a scramble in the box, a determined Burak Yilmaz fought off Howedes to make it 2-2, and cancel out Schalke’s away goal scored at the Turk Telekom arena. It was now Galatasaray’s game to loose. In spite of Galatasaray emerging victors via a late strike from Umut Bulut, the sole reason for the goal was that Schalke had committed men forward in order to cancel out the away goal and bring the tie back on level terms. At the end of the night, the  Gelsenkirchen gelled into a feeling of disarray as Schalke, the dominant team on the night, eventually went out as they were beaten by the away goals rule.

Arsenal did the unthinkable of scoring twice in an arena that’s never seen the opposition score more than once due to the extreme resiliance of the Bayern defense. Wasn’t it a little harsh that all their hardwork on the night went in vain, due to the away goals rule?

Being a Manchester United fan, the away goal rule brings back the painful memories of Arjen Robben‘s goal at Old Trafford that made all our efforts look nothing but a mere consolation on that chilly night on the 6th of April, 2010. Three excellent team goals in the first half had put the baton in our hands and victory seemed ours, but it was all in vain as a particular banana peel thrown on the track by the very rule that aimed at bringing the very best out of the two teams on the pitch led to our downfall. I’m guessing by giving so many examples, I’ve already made my point.

The away goal rule was introduced in the mid 1965 to eliminate the possibility of a replay, which would prove to be costly and very hectic on any team’s schedule list. The concept was simple: Go to a more hostile stadium, get booed with every touch of the ball, manage to score goals in that hostile environment, and victory is all yours.

All it does is add more controversy to an already very topsy-turvy game, often marred and decided by controversial decisions.

After Manchester United’s tragedy of Munich in 1958, teams decided to use other means of transport, rail or road. The cost of the travel was very high and clubs with limited budgets often had to hit a hammer on player’s wages to afford travelling for away games. But the amount of money involved in the game nowadays is really crazy. With wages rocketing sky-high, with owners splashing money on football clubs, football no more faces the problems of traveling as they used to face back then. Plus, with a filled roster of 30+ players, clubs are more than ready to tackle the ever so tight playing schedule. So doesn’t it take care of all the shortcomings that led to the inclusion of the away goal rule?

Football is played for victory, but the away goals rule makes it look more like a policy. No doubt, overpowering your opponent at their homes is a big feat in itself, but the consequences are often against the run of play.

So, the away goal rule: A boon or a bane? You be the judge.

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