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The Away Goal Rule: Does it need to go away?

The month of February saw the return of the competition that whets the appetite of football lovers across the lands. The Champions League made its way back on our television screens and football lovers were able to witness some fantastic games. The battle which was pinned up to be the tie of the round, Manchester United against Real Madrid, did not disappoint. All the games played out were mostly entertaining to watch, and many, bar the Juventus-Celtic affair, will mostly be decided in the second leg (Yes, I still give Arsenal a chance!).

There was one bit of information that can be gathered from almost all the games that were played out in the last two weeks, and that would be the fact that all the sides who had to travel came back home with a slight – in case of Bayern and Juventus, a massive – advantage for the second leg. Barcelona, surprisingly, are the only ones coming out with absolutely no advantage from the first leg.

The question, though, is if it is really an advantage? The obvious answer would be, of course, why not?

Let us take the example of the game between the two giants of Europe, Real Madrid and Manchester United. The Red Devils travelled to Spain and managed to hold the Liga champions to a 1-1 draw.

Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, was quick to refute any advantage that Manchester United apparently had, while his opposite number, Sir Alex Ferguson, also stated that the tie was still 50/50 going into the second leg. Though, if one were to look into it a bit more, it would seem Madrid have the advantage. If the game at Old Trafford were to finish 1-1, it would mean both teams would finish level on aggregate, and hence the game would enter extra time. This is where Madrid would gain the advantage over the Red Devils.

Los Blancos would receive 30 extra minutes in which they could score an away goal, something that Manchester United did not receive.

Now, after explaining the scenario, does it not seem unfair that Madrid could possibly end up getting 120 minutes to win via an away goal, whereas United would only get 90? Suddenly, the thought of playing away first doesn’t really seem much of an advantage, does it?

This is not the only problem with the away goal though.

When the away goal was introduced in 1965 by UEFA, it was because of the need at that time to balance out the matches. Technology was nowhere near the level of sophistication that we see today, and hence teams like Real Madrid travelled to unknown parts of Europe, where they would encounter not only pitches of terrible quality, but opponents whose sole aim was to kick their counterparts out of the game.

Surely, rules made almost 50 years ago may require changing now?

50 years ago, Borussia Dortmund may not have had much knowledge about their Round of 16 opponents Shakhtar Donetsk, but due to the availability of technology, even the fans of the German club can claim to have information on their opponents and what style of play the Bundesliga Champions will encounter.

The rule, in fact, has now started working in a completely opposite manner. The rule was meant to encourage and reward away teams, who would look to play on the attack, but it has led to the home team in the first leg deliver some cagey performances, in the fear of allowing the dreaded away goal.

Going back to the game between Real Madrid and Manchester United, it was interesting to note how Mourinho made some defensive substitutions near the end of the match to ensure Manchester United, who had looked dangerous near the end, did not score another away goal.

Also, if two teams are level at the end of 180 minutes football, the game should be going into extra time. This would not only be fair, it would also help UEFA. Another extra 30 minutes minimum (unless the game went to penalties), would mean more revenue for the association.

A possible solution to the away goal rule, could infact be a small tweak in the rules. How about the away goal only be considered  if and when the game is locked at a stalemate after the additional 30 minutes? This would allow more chances of the game ending without the scores level, and it would also allow UEFA to earn more money through broadcasting revenue.

Hence. a change (in fact removing it completely) would not only level the playing field a bit more, it could also possibly bring in more revenue for UEFA.

Is it really fair that Dortmund or even United could play a nil all draw and go through without having outscored their opponents? Would it not be more exciting if teams tried to outscore each other, rather than try to nick an away goal and then defend it? At the end of the day, it is all about opinions. People who lean more towards the tactical side of the game will prefer that the away goal remains as it’s  interesting to see how a team sets up to play away from home against their opponents.

The away goals rule was created in 1965. Today is 2013. Does the rule need to change with the times, or not change at all?

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