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Portugal 0-0 France (1-0 aet)

Euro 2016, Final, Stade de France, 10/7/16.

So. It wasn’t to be Germanic hegemony after all.

Neither was it to be French triumph.

Like a lot of the knockout matches this was a spectacularly dull game but it suggested one thing to me. Portugal are a better team without Cristiano Ronaldo in it than with him. I felt much the same about Liverpool in the latter stages of Steven Gerrard’s time with them. It seemed to me the rest of the Liverpool players were looking too much to Gerrard, giving way to him or allowing him to have the ball when they were in better positions to do something with it. So too with Ronaldo and Portugal. Throughout the tournament (though perhaps not the 3-3 draw with Hungary which I missed as I was watching the Iceland-Austria game) there was something about the way they played with him on the pitch that rendered them less effective as an attacking force. His hogging of all the free kicks with no fruitful result whatsoever was almost laughable. Okay, he did score that header against Wales and scuffed the assist for Nani’s toe-poke in that game but otherwise there was little end product and he seemed to get in the way at times. With him not available others stepped up to the plate – particularly Eder who I doubt would have made it onto the pitch if Ronaldo hadn’t been injured.

Football. It’s a funny old game.

When Is a Foul Not a Foul?

Manchester Utd 1-2 Real Madrid (aggregate 2-3)

UEFA Champions League*, Old Trafford, 5/3/13

This game, of course, hinged on the sending off. Up to that point United had been marginally the better, certainly David De Gea in United’s goal had fewer saves to make. Actually, even afterwards Diego Lopez in Real’s goal made more saves but Real were in the lead by then and not pushing forward so much. They could even have afforded to lose a goal.

It looked to me like Nani had tried to get the ball, there was no intent to foul – but intent does not come into the law. As Roy Keane argued in the post match discussion Nani’s foot was raised, ergo it was dangerous, worthy of a red card.

This immediately invites a question.

Why, then, when a player takes down any high ball (or indeed executes a bicycle kick) is it not dangerous play? His foot is at least at chest height, as Nani’s was. Are such instances of control of a high ball now all to be banished? In which case Brian Prunty’s much You-Tubed (and sublime) opener for Dumbarton against Livingston a few weeks ago would have been chalked off as dangerous. Should it also have been accorded a red card?

The only difference is the possible nearby presence of another player. But Nani wasn’t aware (till too late) there was a player coming in, he was looking at the flight of the ball. Roy Keane suggested he should be alive to such a possibility, he must expect a challenge. This, though, would also apply to any attempt to play a high ball as above.

Surely, equally, a player is entitled to attempt to control, or pass, the ball in the most effective way?

Nani’s control of the ball arguably wasn’t dangerous or reckless in itself. What may have made it so was the incoming player.

The thing is; it also looked to me like the Real player was never likely to get to the ball first. He was aware of what Nani might attempt to do and yet still came in to make contact with Nani’s foot after Nani had played the ball. In other words the Real player came in late. If Nani had played the ball on the ground and then been impacted the foul would have gone the other way for a late challenge. So who was in the wrong? From one point of view the Real player deliberately ran into a foot he knew was going to be high in order to make it look like dangerous play. In other words he bought the red card. Which is a form of cheating.

The ref and assistants have only real time to make decisions. They do not have the benefit of replays. But even in real time Nani’s high foot did not seem to me to be a sending off offence. But can anyone else be entirely sure what went into the ref’s decision making processes?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this we will never know what would have happened if the red card had not been issued. Real might have scored twice anyway. But United might also have scored again, they made chances even with ten men.

Given the stories floating around about match-fixing there is now an element of doubt about such high profile matches. (And possibly low profile ones as well.) It is unfortunate that a refereeing decision appeared to be central to the outcome of this game.

In an unrelated point I thought that Ronaldo might have been just offside when the cross was hit in for Real’s second goal in that a scoring part of his body was beyond the last defender. None of the replays focused on this and it was given no analysis. Strange that.

* so-called

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