Across The Pond: Champions League Semifinals

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Across The Pond: Champions League Semifinals
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Across the Pond is a series that offers this Yank's take on major events in sports from Europe and the rest of the world. For the last installment, click here.


Justice is blind, or so the saying goes.

Referees? They face frequent accusation of "visual impairment," but what was doled out by officials during the two Champions League semifinals was far from justice.

Injustice is meted out by the blind? That sounds about right.

The Chelsea/Barcelona semifinal was marred by a single whistle, a call that showed unbelievably poor judgement on the part of Tom Henning Ovrebo. This one flash of incompetence nearly cost Barcelona a spot in the final.

Manchester United didn't have their result against Arsenal affected by a poor decision, but a red card that was questionable at best has now tarnished the final a full three weeks before kickoff.

Trailing 1-0 after halftime, Barcelona came out on the attack against Chelsea. The Catalans were in search of the vital away goal that could see them through to the final.

In the 67th minute, Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka got in behind the Barcelona defence and began a run toward goal. Eric Abidal tried to nip around him and regain position, but Anelka crumpled to the ground. Ovrebo went to his pocket, and showed Abidal the straight red.

Replays show that Abidal didn't make contact with Anelka at all. In fact, Anelka didn't go down until he had taken a couple of steps away from Abidal.

This can mean one of two things: Either Anelka is suffering from a terrible inner-ear infection that has affected his balance, or he took a massive dive and deceived the official in a desperate effort to seal the win with a dishonest play.

I know which one gets my vote.

Barcelona was handed a tall order, being forced to fight back from a goal down with 10 men, at the daunting fortress that is Stamford Bridge. Impossible, especially with the cosmos conspiring against the Catalans.

How's that for alliteration?

Chelsea looked to be walking away with a tainted victory until Iniesta smashed a shot into the upper-right hand corner of the goal in the third minute of injury time. With Barcelona's lone shot on goal, a spot in the finals was booked and karmic balance was restored to the universe.

At least until Chelsea's last-ditch effort to regain the lead. A desperate shot by Michael Ballack appeared to come off the arm of a Barcelona defender in the box, but no whistle came.

What are we to make of an official who had such a noticeable impact on the game?

It's often said that the best referee is one who does not get noticed during the course of a game, and that saying was proved true this week.

The controversy over the Barcelona/Chelsea semifinal will not die down soon. Both teams will quite rightly feel that the referee did them a serious injustice at some point during the match, but only one team managed to survive.

That brings us to Tuesday's semifinal, and the case of Darren Fletcher. Admittedly, I did not see the foul in question because I turned the match off after Manchester United took a 3-0 lead.

Since I haven't been able to find a replay of the foul, I will point you to Andrew McNair's excellent article on the subject, and leave you with a final thought.

It's never a good thing when the outcome of a match is taken away from the players. The officiating this week was egregious, and we can only hope that the final in three weeks' time can help us all forget this controversy.

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