|Uefa set themselves up for allegations of conspiracy
||[May. 7th, 2009|12:02 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
A grand conspiracy involving Uefa and a one-eyed referee, aimed at preventing another all-English Uefa Champions League final?
The allegations swirled around London on Wednesday night in the light of Chelsea’s exit in a dramatic semi-final, second leg.
There is no doubt that Uefa will be relieved Chelsea are not meeting Manchester United for a second successive year in the Champions League final. Uefa President Michel Platini has made little attempt to hide his dislike for the hegemony enjoyed by the English clubs in recent Champions League seasons.
But surely no-one is seriously suggesting this was an enormous fix, sanctioned by the men at the top of Uefa? Uefa would surely not even think of getting involved in such dire deeds.
The trouble was, Uefa set themselves up for such allegations by their choice of a Norwegian official to take charge of what was always going to be a pressure-cooker atmosphere of a game. The clear penalties that Tom Henning Ovrebo either did not see or chose not to see, undeniably influenced the final result.
One or two of Chelsea’s claims for penalties may have been fatuous. But two were dead certs. Didier Drogba’s shirt was pulled back when he was yards inside the box. Later, Barcelona’s former Manchester United defender Gerard Pique clearly handled and diverted the ball away from the path of danger.
Surely we are entitled to ask, if the referee did not see these offences, why didn’t the linesman? The conspiracy theory grows of its own accord when you put such facts down on paper in the cold light of day. Indeed, maybe Chelsea’s last shout for a penalty was their most pressing, with a Barcelona defender’s arm high up to block a final minute shot from Michael Ballack, inside the penalty area.
So many claims, at least two of which should have been answered in the affirmative. Thus, if this wasn’t a case of Henning being totally out of his depth, might not other factors play on the minds of some onlookers?
Chelsea manager Gus Hiddink gave a magnificent interview when it was over, professionally masking his anger whilst still questioning the referee’s point blank refusal to award the Londoners a penalty whatever the circumstances.
But Hiddink also said something else that went like an arrow to the heart of the matter. “Of course, if we had taken our chances, the game would have been killed, all over” said the Dutchman. How right he was, and how ironic that the showman Drogba, who gave the Norwegian official an absolute blasting as he left the pitch and then used foul language in front of a TV camera, was the guilty party.
Drogba badly missed a glorious chance in the first leg in the Nou Camp. At Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, he made another shocking mess of a glorious chance that would have put Chelsea 2-0 ahead and effectively settled the tie.
So-called world class strikers who cost around £25 million cannot miss chances of that magnitude in games of this importance. Berating the referee is one thing but Drogba ought to be focusing too on his own inadequacies and failings. Had he done his job, firstly in the Catalan capital and then on his home patch at Stamford Bridge, the questionable decisions of a poor referee would have been rendered an irrelevance.
Truth to tell, Chelsea simply hung on for the entire 180 minutes against opponents in another stratosphere of technical excellence. Barcelona will light up the final in Rome on May 27 because they possess such sublime skills. They also showed enormous courage to keep hunting the equaliser which proved their salvation, after playing the final 20 minutes with just 10 men following the sending off of Eric Abidail.
To keep coming, keep passing, keep attacking, keep seeking space and creativity took immense courage and verve. Over the two legs of the two semi finals, you have to say the two best teams have reached the final in Rome.
If Chelsea want an explanation for that, they must study their own failings every bit as much as those of the referee.