The Great Debate: Chelsea Vs Barca: Did The Ref Actually Get It Right?

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The Great Debate: Chelsea Vs Barca: Did The Ref Actually Get It Right?
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Wednesday night's Champions League semifinal between Chelsea and Barcelona has got the whole footballing world talking.

It was one of the most dramatic and controversial matches of recent times, and the man at the centre of all the attention has been the referee, Tom Ovrebo.

The Norwegian has had to go into hiding after receiving death threats regarding his performance in that match, in which he denied Chelsea four penalties, ultimately leading to Andres Iniesta being able to get a late winner for Barcelona.

His decisions were so strange that there was talk of a conspiracy theory.

Some people thought that UEFA didn't want another all-English final, and so tried to fix the match, or at least the referee, so Barcelona went through.

For me, this theory doesn't really work.

Yes, his decisions were erratic, but they didn't all go Barcelona's way.

Had he been backing Barcelona to win, why did he give Eric Abidal a red card?

Surely, when 1-0 down to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the referee would know that a sending off would seriously hinder Barcelona's chances, particularly as they hadn't had a shot on target up to that point.

So was there a conspiracy theory? Well, I heard rumours of UEFA not being happy with an all-English final last year, but I don't think there is any weight behind these claims.

What about the penalty decisions, then?

Chelsea had four main claims for a penalty during the match and it is very unlikely that the referee would wave them all away. As we all know, however, that is exactly what he did.

The first penalty shout came for Florent Malouda. The Chelsea winger was fouled outside the box, and then again inside the box. The referee, however, brought the free-kick back for the first offence, and gave a free-kick.

To me, this was very strange.

Surely the defender should have been penalised for the latest foul? All this showed was that the ref thought it was a foul, but didn't want to give a penalty.

However, when asked to analyse the referee's decisions, former referee Dermot Gallacher said that Ovrebo was right to award a free-kick, and not a penalty. I still don't agree, but if Gallacher says that, there must be a reason behind Ovrebo not pointing to the spot.

The second penalty claim came when Abidal hauled Didier Drogba down as the Ivorian striker was through on goal. Replays showed that Abidal did have hold of Drogba's shirt, but I don't think this was a penalty.

The force applied by Abidal was not enough to take Drogba down. I think his reputation as a diver may have preceded him on this occasion. Despite me thinking this wasn't a penalty, however, Dermot Gallacher said it should have been.

The third penalty claim was the clearest by quite a way. Nicolas Anelka tried to flick the ball round Gerard Pique, but it obviously hit the Barcelona defender's arm. How this penalty wasn't given, I'll never know.

Even if the referee wasn't in a good position, his linesman should have had a clear view of it, and should have awarded the penalty himself.

As for the fourth appeal, I think this one would have been very harsh to give. Michael Ballack's volley did strike the arm of Samuel Eto'o, but Eto'o had his back to Ballack at the time.

Out of the four claims, I think there were two good shouts—the Malouda and Pique ones.

Dermot Gallacher also thought there were two good shouts—the Drogba one and the Pique one.

The only one everyone seems to be agreed on is the Pique handball. There is no doubt that it should have been given, but, contrary to everyone saying the referee had a poor game because he turned down four penalty appeals, he actually only turned down one stone-wall penalty, something which isn't unheard of.

But should that have even been a penalty? Of course, they are given more often than not, but, according to the letter of the law, the referee got it right.

There is no such thing as ball to hand in the football rulebook and, therefore, Pique's handball wasn't actually a penalty.

It wasn't just the penalty decisions Ovrebo was criticised for, however.

His sending off of Abidal seemed harsh. The Barcelona defender brushed Nicolas Anelka with the slightest touch, but was sent off as he was the last man.

Replays show that Anelka actually tripped over his own feet, leaving Barcelona to feel cheated, as they will now be without Abidal for the final.

In addition to the referee's erratic decisions, a main talking point was the reaction of some of Chelsea's players after the match—namely Didier Drogba.

He marched on to the pitch at the final whistle and berated the ref all the way down the tunnel, before turning to the TV cameras and claiming that it was a "disgrace, a f***ing disgrace!"

I can understand his emotion and his frustration, but saying that directly into the camera wasn't the cleverest thing he has ever done. He has since apologised, and I think it should be left at that.

I don't think there is anyone who was watching that couldn't sympathise with Drogba's reaction. If I was a Chelsea fan, I would probably be happy that he was actually showing some passion.

The one man I think should be punished for his actions, however, is Michael Ballack.

After Ovrebo waved away his late penalty claim, the German midfielder chased the referee down the pitch, screaming at him, and trying to grab him. On one occasion he actually made contact with the referee's face.

That type of behaviour from a professional footballer is inexcusable, particularly with the on-going "respect" campaign.

Yes, it would have been hard to take, but that is how football goes sometimes.

He ought to know that as well as anyone.

Fellow Bleacher Report writer Salomon Gonzales raised another great talking point from this game: Drogba's antics during the match may well have cost Chelsea.

Had he not feigned injury so often, there wouldn't have been as much stoppage time, giving Barcelona less time to get that vital goal. In the end, Iniesta struck in the 93rd minute, something that may not have occurred had Drogba stayed on his feet more often.

Some people will lay the blame at Drogba's door, others at Ovrebo's, and more still may distribute the blame evenly.

Did the referee have a bad game? Yes, I don't think there is any doubting that, but did he turn a blind eye to four perfectly good penalties?

No. Two, maybe, and one almost certainly, but not all four.

Chelsea can feel hard done by. After all, they were literally seconds away from reaching a second Champions League final in two years.

However, over the two legs I think Barcelona deserved to go through, but Chelsea, with all the chances they squandered, should have gone through.

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