“Arturo’s (Vidal) card wasn’t a (second yellow) card. Two Cristiano (Ronaldo) goals offside. Need better quality referee. Perhaps time to have video. Too many errors. I cannot go too far. The referee had a bad game. Full stop,” answered a dejected Carlo Ancelotti after suffering defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
“The referee made a lot of errors and it was impossible to play with ten men against Real Madrid,” Robert Lewandowski was quoted saying by DW Sports just hours after the game.
The frustration is understood as the clash was arguably ruined by poor refereeing decisions which went against Bayern Munich. The truth is that Bayern have been robbed off a possible place in the semifinals of the Champions League after performing brilliantly to get themselves back in the tie.
The Bavarians started the game with an average age of 30 years & 116 days, their oldest starting 11 in their Champions League history. Real, on the other hand, banked on their away-goal advantage to seal their passage through to the last four. The atmosphere inside the famous Santiago Bernabeu was usual shrill and intense. Although, it spiked within the five minutes of the game when Vidal brought down Isco and forced referee Viktor Kassai to make a decision to brandish a yellow card without even warning the player. It appeared harsh on first look and meant that he would miss the semi-final first-leg, if Bayern made it. However, it did not stop the Germans from making Madrid’s back four sweat, after having 5 shots in the opening fifteen minutes of the game.
The remainder of the half saw Madrid creeping into Bayern’s half as Xabi Alonso allowed Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to get past him, even without even making an attempt. His sloppiness in the middle allowed Dani Carvajal to find room and shoot but only to see Manuel Neuer make a save before the referee decided to award Bayern a goal kick that Carvajal wasn’t happy about. What’s interesting about the first half was Bayern’s faith in their old guns Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery even after all these years. The duo were rampant at the start of the game.
In the first-leg clash at the Allianz Arena, Javi Martinez was sent off and Bayern did not want yet another setback as his departure saw Madrid spread their play and take the away-goal advantage. Ancelotti’s camp had a heart-in-mouth situation just after the break when Vidal made a clumsy challenge on Casemiro at the edge of the box. Many thought that the Chilean’s defensive qualities had gone for a toss due to referee’s harsh calls. The game appeared to be turning in the visitors’ favour by the 50th minute when Marcelo had to stretch full and head away Robben’s miscued chip off the goal-line to keep Madrid ahead on aggregate. The Los Blancos found it difficult to sneak through into Bayern’s half.
After having a quiet first-half, Robert Lewandowski was gifted a chance to pull one back from the spot following Casemiro’s foul on Robben. The Polish international made full use of it and gave Bayern some hope with an important away goal in the 53rd minute. Just minutes after the lead, Lewandowski again came close as there was a sense of optimism felt by the German supporters. They believed Lewandowski could pull off a similar kind of show against Madrid who were thrashed 4-1 by Borussia Dortmund in 2012, when he scored all the four goals. While Madrid were finally picking up the pace via Kroos and Modric’s distribution, the Bavarians created magic on the right. Thirty-three-year-old Philipp Lahm and Robben’s link-up play left Marcelo in a dangerous position each time Bayern attacked.
Interestingly, at the hour mark, both teams had a total of 12 shots on target. But it was the German side that was winning the tackles, picking out players in wide positions and threatening from both the flanks despite a lot of refereeing decisions going Madrid’s way in the second half. And if Bayern had one player to thank for offering fluidity, it was ex-Barcelona playmaker Thiago Alcantara. The 26-year-old’s technique and link-up with Vidal killed Madrid’s hopes of controlling the game from the middle of the park as the Spaniard single-handedly closed down Kroos and Modric everytime either of the one had the ball, whilst Vidal was doing the dirty job. Alcantara made 51 touches and played in three different roles throughout the match. Vidal knew he was in danger of getting booked for the second time but he went on shoulder-to-shoulder with players and won key battles in the midfield.
Zinedine Zidane was left tight-lipped looking at Madrid’s wasted opportunities upfront so he brought on Asensio. His introduction allowed the so-far ineffective Ronaldo to be more dangerous going forward. Madrid finally had some stability having switched to 4-5-1. Bayern were forced to stay compact as their back four were not the fittest of the players on the pitch. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng were not match-fit to stick around more than 70 odd minutes and it was in the 77th minute when, Cristiano Ronaldo, who had had a very quiet night to that point, headed in a beautifully teed-up Casemiro cross to make it 1-1 on the night. But within two minutes Lewandowski challenged for a ball in the Madrid box and the ball hit Nacho before bobbling in off Sergio Ramos. It was chaotic at the back as Madrid completely switched off after the equaliser.
Bayern seemed to have cruise control with six minutes on the clock but things changed within a blink of an eye as Vidal was sent off after being shown a second yellow yard. Replays suggested he did nothing wrong as he slid into a tackle on Asensio, winning the ball clearly. Questions were asked when the Hungarian referee, who had decided against showing Casemiro a second yellow for what looked like a bookable foul on Robben, just a few minutes prior to the Vidal sending off.
For the second time in the quarter-final, Bayern were down to 10 men. This time Arturo Vidal was the victim. That was not even close to a foul, let alone a booking. It was obvious by now that Bayern would struggle to close down the Real Madrid midfield as Vidal who played a much deeper role, shielding the back four was off the pitch.
Extra-time was needed as the two giants could not be separated after a 3-3 aggregate score after 90 minutes. Ancelotti needed fresh legs to get something out of his this clash and brought on Douglas Costa in place of Ribery. Joshua Kimmich too replaced Alonso who received a standing ovation as he waved across the Bernabeu for the last time in his career. Soon, Modric and Kroos found ample spaces in the center and were well-supported by Marcelo and Nacho on the flanks as Madrid began to target the tired legs of Hummels and Boateng. Guess what? They were successful. Ramos played a little chip over the top to find Ronaldo in space inside the Bayern box, as he drilled a shot with his left foot to get his 100th Champions League goal. But replays showed the Portuguese was a yard offside and Bayern were left ruing another refereeing call that went against them. Stranded in midfield, Bayern gave away the ball quickly once again as Isco set up Marcelo who ate up the grass in front of him to find Ronaldo completely unmarked, but yet again in an offside position. The Portuguese had the easiest of jobs to take the tie away from Ancelotti’s men with a simple tap in in an open goal. With that strike, Ronaldo became Madrid’s all-time leading scorer at the Santiago Bernabeu, surpassing the record of the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano. Bayern, unhappy with refereeing decisions and exhausted, let go Asensio who made it 4-2 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate. “It was two top teams, a joy to watch. And then a game like that is being decided by crucial decisions by referee,” said Robben angrily after the game ended. Taking nothing away from Ronaldo and Marcelo who had a superb game, the outcome of the game was, without a doubt, decided by silly mistakes by the referees.
Vidal who was the victim of one of the many blunders from the referee hit out at him with strong words. “When Madrid got scared, the referee began his show. This robbery can’t happen in the Champions League, we felt it a lot and you start to wonder a bit. When [referees] embarrass you like that, it’s really hard to take. It makes you very angry” an enraged Vidal said after the game.
This is not the first time that dodgy refereeing decisions have cost teams in crunch situations. The Champions League itself witnessed a similar outcome as last month’s Barcelona versus Paris Saint-Germain clash was marred by couple of decisions that went against PSG, including a late penalty, when Luis Suarez appeared to have dived. Casemiro can consider himself lucky to stay on the pitch without being sent off, while Vidal had to succumb for an action that probably does not warrant a free-kick. Probably, that’s where one wants video technology for less of moaning and more of football.
However, it’s time Fifa must take cues from the introduction of the goal-line technology which is actually doing a phenomenal job in Europe. It can be seen in the Premier League and the Serie A, especially in the latest Milan derby where Christian Zapata’s 97th-minute header was allowed as the referee couldn’t make out whether it crossed the line or not. Watching big teams like PSG and now Bayern suffer due to horribly wrong decisions is a bit painful to watch. For now, one can only hope that the introduction of Video Assistant Referee’s (VAR) makes justice to the beautiful sport we all love.