Eyes on the Prize

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 29th 2014)

Pared Down

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Hull City paid the price for taking the Europa League lightly. KSC Lokeren progressed to the group stage on away goals, leaving England with just two representatives in the Europa League this season – the one where it really matters. This seasonʼs winners qualify for the Championʼs League. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are Englandʼs only representatives in the Europa League this season.

Mauricio Pochettinoʼs Spurs team will play Turkeyʼs Beşiktaş, whose striking prowess was bolstered by the capture of Senegalese international Demba Ba in the summer. Belgradeʼs Partizan dropped down from the Championʼs League qualifying stage, but only had the chance to play in the top competition because Serbian champions Red Star were banned after falling foul of Financial Fair Play obligations by failing to pay their debts. Greek outfit Asteras Tripoli completed Group C.

Meanwhile, Roberto Martínezʼ Everton will play Russiaʼs FC Krasnodar, Germanyʼs VfL Wolfsburg and Franceʼs LOSC Lille in Group H. The French team, boasting last seasonʼs record breaking goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, were beaten by Porto for a place in the Championʼs League group stage.

Pick of the Rest

Defending Europa League winners Sevilla will play Croatiaʼs HNK Rijeka in Group H along with Belgiumʼs Standard de Liège and Rotterdamʼs top team Feyenord. Following Pochettinoʼs departure to Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton lured Feyenordʼs manager Ronald Koeman to St. Maryʼs Stadium. The vacancy at the de Kuip Stadium was filled by Fredericus Rutten. Unai Emery Etxegoien will expect the Andalusian club to dominate Group G despite losing captain Federico Fazio to Spurs.

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Villarreal is the only other Spanish team to make the group stage. They will expect to progress from Group A. Germanyʼs Borussia Mönchengladbach along with Cypriots Apollon Limassol and Swiss outfit FC Zürich complete the group. French outfit Saint-Étienne and Ukrainians Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk will expect to confirm Azerbaijanʼs Qarabağ Ağdam FK as Group Fʼs whipping boys while Internazionale di Milano complete the group.

 

Interʼs Vice-President and former on-pitch icon Javier Zanetti welcomed the draw, but assured us that Inter would not take the tournament lightly. Group K consists of Portuguese club EA Guincamp, Belarusʼ Dinamo Minsk, Salonikaʼs finest PAOK and Fiorentina, still boasting the talents of Colombiaʼs coveted winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. Fiorentinaʼs CEO Sandro Mencucci told us, “He [Cuadrado] is one of the best players in the world”. The Viola do not want to sell him and Mencucci refused to put a figure on Cuadradoʼs value.

Controversy

Italyʼs final representative is controversial. Torino got the nod, although Parma have a right to feel aggrieved at being denied their place due to a financial infraction over taxes that they had not been informed of in time to meet the deadline – an utterly absurd situation. Despite the sympathy of Italian courts the sanction against Parma stood and Torino took their plaCIMG9125ce.

Torino could have qualified in their own right if Alessio Cerci had not missed a penalty against Fiorentina at Florenceʼs Artemio Franchi Stadium on the last day of the Serie A season. Cerciʼs tears showed what it meant to him, but the Granata were reprieved by Parmaʼs fate. Torino will face Belgians Club Brugge and the Scandinavian challenge of FC København and HJK Helsinki.

Celticʼs heroic recent performances in the Championʼs League particularly against Barçelona won the Glaswegian club deserved plaudits, but that goodwill was dissipated after a 6-1 thrashing by Polandʼs Legia Warszawa was turned into a 4-4 draw that allowed Celtic through on away goals after a technicality that had no bearing on the result. A Legia player had a three match ban – he actually served it, but the paperwork was defective. UEFA overturned the result, costing Legia their win and the possibility of earning in the Championʼs League. Legia was dumped out of the Championʼs League, allowing a shambles of a Celtic team another chance, which they failed to take. Sloveniaʼs Maribor beat them in Scotland to progress. Celtic and Legia both qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, but the draw kept them apart.

Austrian club FC Salzburg, little known Romanian outfit FC Astra from Giurgi, and Croatiaʼs Dinamo Zagreb provide the opposition for Celtic in Group D. Meanwhile, Ukraineʼs Metalist Kharkiv, Hull Cityʼs Belgian conquerors KSC Lokeren and Turkish outfit Trabzonspor are Legiaʼs opponents in Group L. The Europa League Final will be held in Warsaw this year.

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Own Goals – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2012 and modified on May 27th 2014))

UEFA Back Goal-line Assistant Referees

The President of UEFA scored some own goals at this afternoon’s press conference. Michel Platini launched a vigorous attack on technology, believing that it does not help and asking why the debate is limited to just goal-line technology and not for other decisions – a very fair point. However, Platini has no truck with technology at all, although he has no problem with extra officials.

UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino revealed that UEFA had received former referee Pierluigi Collina’s findings on the experiments with extra assistants. Collina had studied 1000 matches and concluded that the extra officials on the goal-line had reduced errors to just one – the match between Ukraine and England, which was played at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

UEFA unanimously accepted Collina’s findings and will urge FIFA and the IFA (International Football Association) to adopt the policy, but both Platini and Collina remain opposed to the use of technology. UEFA argued that the extra assistants improved behaviour in the penalty area. Even if that is true, what about behaviour on the rest of the pitch? Has that improved too as a result of the extra officials and if not, how does UEFA propose to achieve this?

Crazy Idea

There was further controversy. “It’s just an idea”, Platini repeatedly said, but it was one that he insisted had some support. Platini thinks that Euro 2020 could be hosted in several countries – up to twelve. Travel – budget airlines or not – will be prohibitive for fans and some media too. It will also take up time to get between the host cities – more a media point, but the cost for fans, especially, will be high too if they wish to see a few teams play.

Multiplying the host countries will cause all sorts of logistical problems and much more besides. It will be a linguistic nightmare too. Co-hosting causes difficulties in covering both matches and pre-match or post-match training. Choices have to be made, or teams of reporters have to be larger, which may not be an option for various media in the current economic climate.

One of the major complaints about Ukraine has been the absurd accommodation prices. UEFA complained about this, but some prices still remain prohibitive. It was also an issue in Austria four years ago, leading to a collapse in prices when the accommodation was not booked at the high prices.

Such problems apply in Ukraine, which is a pity as by and large the Ukrainian people I met – and I met quite a few in my short stay in the country – are lovely and friendly people who should not be judged by a few greedy and unhelpful people. Multiplying the host countries will multiply such problems, as there will be no opportunity to develop a tourism strategy or spread the sporting development plan.

Plain Wrong

But back to technology. UEFA decided to recommend that FIFA and IFA adopt the additional referees on the goal-line, claiming that it has been very successful in a 1000 with only one high profile error – the goal that never was for Ukraine. Despite Platini’s views, there are clearly issues where technology would help – even something as basic replays.

Check the footage and you will see that there is no do doubt that a serious error was made – one that a replay or review could have put right. The technology exists to improve decisions to correct glaring errors. The officials are human. Even the best of them will make mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. Surely if the correct decision can be made by using technology, that should happen. Cricket allows reviews and uses technology in the Decision Review System (DRS). Why doesn’t football?

Affecting Results

Ukraine’s goal that was not given involved another wrong decision. There was also an error in the build up to that goal, which had benefited Ukraine. This was a case of two errors – one for either side. Does two wrong decisions now amount to one right decision? But regardless of that there were errors in other matches, which were important ones.

At least two serious errors would have been caught before they had serious consequences if the use of basic technology had been allowed. Nevertheless, Platini claimed that there were no refereeing errors that affected the outcome of a match. This is wrong.

One is the yellow card given by Jonas Eriksson to Giorgos Karagounis for diving in the match against Russia in Warsaw. The replays showed that there had been contact between defender Sergei Ignashevich and Karagounis, who went down in the box. Not only was it not a dive, but referee should have given a penalty. At the very least, there was significant doubt about whether Karagounis had dived. If there was contact and there was, how could it be a dive? It affected the outcome of a match – the next one.

Karagounis was the Man of the Match against Russia, but that card ruled him out of the quarter final. Karagounis was certainly an influential player for Greece. His goal won the match and sent Greece into the knock-out stages. How can it not have affected the outcome of the following match when one of Greece’s best players was wrongly ruled out of the quarter final?

It affected Greece’s game plan. They were given no choice but to play a completely different plan to the one they would have used if Karagounis had been available to play as he should have been. In his absence, Greece lost 4-2 to Germany at the Arena Gdansk (Poland). They never had the opportunity to see if he would have made the difference and the referee Eriksson was retained for the knock-out stages despite that error.

The other error was glaring and Greece were victimised by that one too. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has a habit of sending people off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Poland’s Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before that he received a yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”!

Impact of Errors

The match ended a 1-1 draw. Lewandowski had put Poland ahead after 17 minutes. Substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised after 51 minutes. A crucial incident occurred on 68 minutes. Poland’s goalkeeper Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny was rightly sent off for a professional foul on Salpingidis. Replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Karagounis’ penalty.

Had the correct decisions been made Greece would not have had Papastathopoulos sent off. Then they would not have had to play 48 minutes plus added time in both halves with ten men and would or at least could if Velasco Carballo did not find reason to send off another Greek player, which he did not do, have had the opportunity to attack Poland with a man advantage for 22 minutes plus added time after Poland had had no option but to make a tactical decision to withdraw midfielder Maciej Rybus – a decision that affected Poland’s attacking options, especially when facing a full compliment of Greeks. How can it possibly be claimed that Velasco Carballo’s decisions, which could have been reviewed with the use of replays – the game had stopped after all to give the fouls and cards – to ensure that the correct decisions were made did not affect the outcome of this match?