The last time I visited my relatives in England, I was so embarrassed after I switched on the television and The Jerry Springer Show came on. I sat with my cousins and uncle as we watched the host, guests and audience members on TV going through their disgusting charade of ridicule and comedy at the expense of a few members of the human race. I was embarrassed because how could you defend that, as an American citizen? Yes, it’s entertainment, but it only gives Americans a bad name.
A similar level of embarrassment swept over me yesterday after the end of the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona. Yes, the climax of the game was breathtaking, but the mistakes made by the referee were appalling and the behavior of Chelsea players such as Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack were disgraceful. This time, I was embarrassed because the game brought to the forefront the flaws of our favorite sport.
At the level of a Champions League semi-final or a World Cup Final, you expect the most. But in the heat of the moment, poor refereeing decisions and disgraceful unsportsmanship only drag the game through the mud.
After watching the 2006 World Cup Final, I remember trying to explain to a colleague of mine who had seldom watched the sport why a penalty shoot out was used to settle the game. To him, he was perplexed. Why play 90 minutes plus 30 minutes of additional time and then reduce the outcome of the game and the decision of who would become the champion of the entire world to a mere game of penalty kicks? He had a point.
I was also asked to defend the controversial sending off of Zinedine Zidane that changed the reflection of the game and gave a huge advantage to Italy who went on to win the game via a penalty shootout. In the Zidane incident, the correct decision was made by the referee but only after he was informed of what happened after the fourth official had seen the TV replay. How could such a decision be made with the aid of a TV replay when normally this wouldn’t be allowed? Again, this was a difficult question to answer.
I only hope my now former colleague didn’t watch yesterday’s game between Chelsea and Barcelona. Not only would he have been disgusted by the unsportsmanlike conduct, but he would have been perplexed by the decision of referee Tom Henning Ovrebo to not award any of the at least four separate calls for a penalty.
As Graham Poll says, everyone makes mistakes. But that simply isn’t good enough. When you have a game that’s being played on the world’s stage and being watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, you expect the refereeing to be world-class. However, FIFA and UEFA have fixed nothing since the 2006 World Cup Final. Respect campaigns obviously don’t work. No technology has been adopted to indicate whether balls have crossed the line or not, and no changes have been made to give referees help in making the correct decisions.
Sure, FIFA has done some work behind the scenes but it isn’t enough and isn’t being done quickly enough.
Poor refereeing decisions aside, yesterday’s Champions League semi-final was a frustrating game to watch. Barcelona looked awful for most of the match and were unable to break down the Chelsea defense. Barcelona’s free kicks and shots at goal were abysmal (Dani Alves was a particular culprit). Messi, despite having three players marking him at times, was unimaginative and ineffective. Abidal was unfortunate to be sent off after appearing to come into contact with the sprinting Nicolas Anelka. However, Anelka tripped over his own feet but Ovrebo thought Abidal fouled him.
Chelsea should not focus entirely on the poor refereeing decisions. They had chances to win this match and could have sewn the game up without the need of the referee to award them one or more penalties. Didier Drogba, the most demonstrative of the Chelsea players, should have put this game out of Barcelona’s reach on several occasions over the course of the two-leg affair.
Other than the two expertly taken goals by Michael Essien and Andres Iniesta, the game left a bitter taste in my mouth. Over the two legs, Chelsea were ugly and didn’t exemplify how the game should be played or handled. Barcelona were a poor poor team over their two legs and were not able to play an appealing brand of football even when they had chances to do so. UEFA needs to take a long look at itself and how the game is refereed. And FIFA needs to review this game to see how the game is governed and what warning signs are visible that need to be rectified before these types of incidents turn people away from our favorite sport.
There was much to be learned from the f***ing disgrace of a match, as Drogba eloquently called it.