Yer Outta Here! European-style

Many English football fans probably woke up this morning hoping that the travesty that they had witnessed on Tuesday night really had been nothing more than a very bad dream.  Unfortunately, Real Madrid’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United was all too real, no pun intended.

To my mind, one of the greatest travesties which can occur in any athletic competition is for a referee to insert himself into the flow of a game in such a manner as to effect its final outcome.   I believe that the old adage regarding children would be more appropriate if it were applied to referees.  That is:  “Referees should be seen and not heard.

The perfect athletic official is the one who is so efficient in the performance of his responsibilities that he is almost transparent to those playing and watching the game.

Unfortunately, officiating opaqueness trumped transparency in Manchester on Tuesday night.

Manchester United was playing Real Madrid in the second leg of a two-game series to determine which team would progress to the quarterfinals of the European Champions League, a football competition second only to the World Cup.

Manchester United was comfortably in control of the game, leading 1-0 early in the second half when United forward, Nani, raised his leg high into the air in an attempt to control a cross-field pass.  At that same moment, a Real Madrid defender, similarly intent on gaining control of the ball, attempted the physical impossibility of occupying the same space as Nani’s right foot.

The collision of foot and torso resulted in the Real Madrid player writhing on the turf in faux agony, which is de rigueur in European football and which has been raised to an art form as practiced by most Spanish teams.
There was clearly no intent on Nani’s part to kick the Real Madrid defender.  He probably didn’t even see the other player until the contact was made, but Cüneyt Çakır, the Turkish referee perceived things quite differently, giving Nani a red-card and a quick heave-ho straight to the showers.

After watching the play several times, I’d agree that an argument could be made for issuing Nani a yellow card, but there is absolutely no way that the contact justified the player’s ejection from the game.

Manchester United (and Fair Play)  Nil –  Intrusive Officiating 1

Red cards, or the ejection of a player from the game, don’t occur all that often in football (aka soccer or futbol), but I found it interesting to learn that Mr. Çakır has a history of red carding English football players, having ejected three in recent years.  I was also surprised to learn that Çakır isn’t a professional official.  He makes his living selling insurance in Istanbul; auto, home, and life, I suppose.

Hasn’t anyone learned the lessons so clearly taught by last season’s NFL substitute official fiasco!

In any event, Çakır’s decidedly inappropriate action had the immediate effect of reducing the Manchester side down to 10 players against Real Madrid’s 11.  But beyond that, the entire complexion of the game changed.  Çakır’s action completely unsettled Manchester United’s game plan, as well as their execution of it on the field.    All of the air had well and truly come out of United’s balloon.  Within a few minutes, Real Madrid was in the lead and would go on to win the game 2-1.  They will now move on to the Champions League quarterfinals.

Not surprisingly, the Champions League governing body UEFA, completely supports the referee’s actions.  No surprise there.

Meanwhile, English football fans are left pondering what might have been but for one part-time official’s penchant for flashing red cards.


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Are You Ready For Some Futbol?

This past Sunday afternoon, I was watching the early NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals on Fox Sports.  I must say that I was quite pleased with the outcome.  The Packers easily took care of the Cards, handing them a 31-17 loss at Lambeau Field.

As that game was winding down, I clicked the “Guide” button on my remote to find out which teams were going to be playing in the second game.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that the 4:00 p.m. match-up on Fox Sports would be pitting Newcastle United against Liverpool!

Say what!?

What could be more unheard of than the live broadcast of an EPL (English Premier League) game in a Sunday afternoon time slot which has been a home to the NFL since time in memoriam!

Lions are going to be laying down with lambs any day now!

Given the steady decline in the quality of programming available, my TV generally is not turned on unless I’m watching sports; or unless there’s a new episode of Ancient Aliens airing on H2!

In recent years, as I’ve scanned through the TV listings in search of a good sports event to watch, I have been aware of a slow but steady increase in the number of soccer games being broadcast here in the states.  And I’m not talking about U.S. based MLS (Major League Soccer) games or Mexican league games on Telemundo.

Case in point, Sunday’s English Premier League game was followed up with the live broadcast of another EPL game, Southampton at West Bromwich Albion, on Monday afternoon.  Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, two Champions League games were broadcast live; Arsenal (Eng.) at Schalke (Ger.) and Barcelona (Spa.) at Celtic (Scot.) respectively.

By the way, Celtic put a big-time thumping on Barca in that one! Go Hoops!

Ten years ago, one could not have imagined watching live English football on U.S. television, much less four live European matches in a single week.

I have a closely kept secret to reveal.  For years, I’ve been a closet soccer fan.  I played the game in my youth, long before the arrival of organized youth leagues.  And I’ve been watching games between European teams on the internet for some time.  I even have the Barclay’s English Premier League app on my iPhone so that I can keep up with scores and league standings.  Such is my fervor for the “beautiful game“.

As far as I’m concerned, being able to watch more EPL and Champions League coverage is a positive trend, and one which I hope to see continue.

At this rate, how long will it be before the names Messi, Gerrard, and Rooney are as recognizable in the U.S. as Manning, Romo, and Vick?