Awful ref spoil exciting match
MADRID — Out of a chaotic but utterly compelling night at the Bernabeu, there were many questions, but one of the most pressing beyond those about refereeing decisions was this: did the most “deserving” team go through?
The second most pressing was would the most “deserving” team have gone through even if every refereeing decision had been right?
That kind of unpredictability is one of the great glories of the football, and Real Madrid’s 4-2 win over Bayern Munich on Tuesday night was genuinely close to being one of the modern Champions League soccer’s truly epic encounters.
But it also summed up so many of the frustrations of the modern game. It was an intense and hugely entertaining encounter, but still one irritatingly decided by a series of conspicuously questionable decisions as much as the great players present like Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben.
Granted, one of the biggest wrong decisions was arguably that of an understandably seething Carlo Ancelotti himself, in keeping Arturo Vidal on the pitch when he looked a red card waiting to happen.
The Chilean did get sent off of course, but not for a tackle that was a foul, and that was the big frustration in this up-to-then uplifting game.
At that point in the 84th minute, it was an encounter so enticingly on the edge and in the balance. Bayern had scored the goal to bring them level, and it looked set for an immersive extra-time, one of those nights where every single player is so intensely invested and aware of both the stakes and exhausting this was.
That should have been the stage for the great players to decide things with their sensational ability. While that happened to a certain degree with Ronaldo's goals, what facilitated that was some sensational mistakes. Vidal should never have gone — at least for that specific tackle on Marco Asensio.
He could well have gone before then, and that reflects that were likely possible wrong decisions before that. Zinedine Zidane was keen to point out after the game that Bayern’s second was likely offside, although that might well have been offset by Robert Lewandowski then getting incorrectly flagged when clean through, and that Casemiro could also have gone off.
As Ancelotti also pointed out, though, you can usually understand a lot of these decisions because there is enough room for doubt. People accept understandably incorrect calls.
“I know it’s football and it happens sometimes,” the Italian began. “But not this serious of a mistake.”
And that was the thing. The Vidal decision wrongly ruined how beautifully poised the game was. The next few decisions, that were even more obviously wrong, went and decided the game. Ronaldo scored two goals from blatantly offside positions.
It does seem misplaced that a match of such magnitude and involving such intense effort from the players can be settled in such a literal arbitrary way. It does at least strengthen the argument for continued experimentation with video technology, even if there are remaining issues and fair questions over the speed of the system used in the recent France-Spain friendly.
The irony is of course that referee Viktor Kassai was the official who was in charge of that game and used the technology to get two big calls completely right. He might well think he could have done with it here, as Ancelotti argued, having first questioned the referee’s performance.
"A quarter-final, you have to have a referee with... I don't know... with more quality. Or have video. There are too many errors. “The ref had a bad game. Full-stop.” Bayern are out. Well, not quite with a full-stop but with a lot of questions about the decisions.
It happens in football. That is something you generally have to accept.
It rarely happens to this degree. That is something you can understand them struggling to accept.
It is also such a pity that a match that had all the ingredients in place to be a pure football epic ended up being just one other massive and tedious argument about officiating.
So, did the most deserving team go through? That is hard to say, but not being able to say it is usually one of the beauties of football; one of its great virtues.
What happened in this match actually detracted from that beauty. That is proven by how the managers, and the rest of us — and this very piece — are not really talking about great play. We are talking about referees. — Online.
Viktor Kassai flashes the red card during Real Madrid’s 4-2 win over Bayern Munich on Tuesday