The day football died

April 18, 2010

 

The world of football was plunged into mourning today as the most beautiful team the world has ever seen was robbed of silverware for yet another season. They couldn’t even rely on their productive relationship with referee Lee Mason who ignored Sol Campbell (again) kicking Wigan’s Figueroa in the stomach, Abou Diaby (again) kicking some irrelevant Wigan clogger in the head without a booking, Bacary Sagna’s repeated rugby tackles on anybody with the temerity to get past him, Samir Nasri’s blatant tug on Ben Watson in the penalty area and so on.

If this farce is not to be repeated next season, then players must be protected from the heavy challenges of teams like Arsenal, I mean Wigan. Stoke. Bolton. Whoever.

The second leg of the Champions League game follows a similar pattern to the first, as the technically superior Arsenal team are harried, kicked and pressed by an outclassed Barcelona who are lucky to only pick up three bookings.

It is part of the Arsenal philosophy to make sure officials react properly to fouls, tackles, whatever. So it was to the credit of the Arsenal players that they made sure Andre Marriner drew an instant red the moment Karl Henry ‘tackled’ Tomas Rosicky. There are some that have argued that it was the reaction of the players that got the red rather than the tackle, for example in this article in The Guardian , but the cynics are ignoring the way Arsenal players also surrounded the ref in the Champions League game against Barcelona in an attempt to get their own players (Arshavin, Diaby, Song et al) sent off following several shocking late challenges from behind. The last thing anybody from Arsenal wants to be accused of is hypocrisy.

Sometimes when you’re up against technically superior opposition you have to ride your luck and fight for everything you get. So it was for Barcelona last night in the first leg of their Champions League quarter final. The Catalonians were given a first half lesson in possession by their opponents and must have been pinching themselves to go in at half time with a blank scoreboard.Certainly the half time team talk for the fortunate coach must have written itself. 

Barca were reduced to kicking their opponents and launching long balls forward in an attempt to relieve the relentless pressure on their defence. It is telling not only that they failed to win a corner all night and had a mere 2 shots on target to their opponent’s 14, but that they gave away twice as many free kicks as and were awarded 5 yellow cards, three for very late tackles indeed, committed in turn by the usual suspects.

It was no surprise when Barcelona’s luck ran out at the beginning of the second half, as they conceded two quick goals. But then their opponents started to cruise and Barca’s direct style and aggressive approach began to reap dividends. A piece of weak goalkeeping threw the Catalans a lifeline, perhaps understandable given that the poor keeper hadn’t touched the ball all night. The equaliser arrived after the ref awarded a harsh penalty and an even harsher red card following a desperate long punt into the box.