With the international break rearing its unwanted head, my attention turned to the recently concluded knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. While there were some very good matches, I could not but resist thinking of the bad luck that a couple of teams had to endure even after spirited performances. Yes, I am specifically referring to Bayern Munich vs Arsenal and Inter Milan vs Tottenham Hotspur.
On the face of it, after the first leg performance, one can’t really say that Arsenal deserved to go through to the next round at the expense of Bayern Munich. Though they put up a great performance in the second leg and levelled the aggregate score, they got knocked out of the Champions League by virtue of the fact that Bayern had scored an extra away goal. While that certainly was a bummer, it left Arsenal fans wondering what might have been if they hadn’t conceded that third goal in the first leg. And so, as a result of the away goals rule, they now have to get by one more season without a trophy.
While not many would really feel sorry for Arsenal, considering the fact that they brought this on themselves, it is definitely not the case with the other game that suffered because of the away goals rule. Inter Milan, after suffering a three-goal deficit at White Hart Lane, went all out at the San Siro, and at the end of 90 minutes, were able to score the required three goals to level the aggregate score. As a result, the game was taken into extra time, where Adebayor scored the decisive goal, which took Spurs through, once again because of the away goals rule. Mind you, Inter still managed to make the aggregate score 4-4, but the away goal that the Spurs found ruined the tie, and qualification for them.
While both Arsenal and Inter did all they could to cover for what was a poor first leg, both were denied in different ways by the same away goals rule. So the question that fans of these clubs and neutrals ask is: “Is the away goals rule really a fair way to decide who goes through?”
It isn’t really an easy question to answer. When you look at it from one angle, you can argue that it is difficult for a visiting team to come to an opposition team’s stadium, which is usually in a different country, and score against them. Therefore, any goals that are scored in such situations should be rewarded suitably. And when you look at it that way, you are bound to say that Arsenal did not really deserve to go through, as Bayern scored more away goals than them. Which does makes sense, in a way.
However, what is unexplainable is what happened to Inter Milan. Here was a team that was fighting a three-goal deficit, and gave it their all to level the aggregate scoreline. At the end of 180 minutes, both teams were equally matched. Extra time was played, and this is where it all went to the dogs for Inter. Not only did the Spurs score, but Inter’s reply meant nothing because of the away goals rule. So the question to ask is, “How fair is to continue with the away goals rule even in extra time?”
When you think about it, it is only logical to say that the extra 30 minutes added after the end of the regulation 180 are to be taken as a completely new play – a new game, if you will, with away goals not having any weight. By having the away goals rule in extra time as well, the Spurs were handed an undue advantage, as they had 30 extra minutes to score that all-important away goal, which Inter did not have. If UEFA wants to keep it fair and not give any team that undue advantage, then they should at least remove the away goals rule from extra time. If that had happened, then Inter would still have had a chance to qualify for the next round, as the tie would have gone to penalties. But that wasn’t to be.
In fact, some even question the need of an away goals rule at all in the first place. While I am not really a fan of the rule, I do think that it needs to remain. The reason is, as I already stated, that no matter how good a team you are, going to the opposition’s stadium and scoring goals in front of their fans is not an easy task at all. Of course, it may make the home teams defensive in their quest to not concede an away goal. But whether you have the rule or not, teams will continue to have their own kind of play, so having the rule itself would not cause much damage.
So, what do you think about the away goals rule?