What next, Wrestling?
Is every major sporting event rigged now? Or is that just how it seems?
Last night Barcelona travelled to Italy to face Inter Milan in the Champions League semi final, first leg. What followed was one of the most crooked, bent and obviously corrupt games I have ever seen.
It wasn't any one glaring incident, instead it was a number of situations that added up to create a terribly corrupt atmosphere, a lingering stench of one sided officiating that left a bad taste in the mouth of any neutral. You can only imagine how Barcelona fans are feeling this morning.
The 'evidence', as it were?
Barcelona were denied two pretty clear cut penalty shouts. Lionel Messi was kicked unceremoniously around the park by the Italian club's defenders from first to final whistle, with basically no intervention from the referee. Inter's third goal was a mile offside. Milito was so offside when he headed home that his first reaction wasn't to celebrate, it was to look anxiously over at the linesman. Incredibly the flag never came.
Need more to chew on? In a match where Barcelona had the lions share of possession and Inter would admit themselves they had to defend for large portions of the game, bizarrely five Barcelona players were booked against only two Inter players. Both those Inter players were forwards.
So far we have learnt:
- The referee was not giving Barcelona a penalty
- The referee was not going to book any Inter defender
- It was open season on kicking Messi around the park
- Offside goals were fine as long as Inter were scoring them
Puyol's yellow card was nothing short of farcical. After a very run of the mill foul at midfield the Inter players surrounded the referee, who had already started moving away from the incident, without taking further action. It was almost as if the Inter players had subtly reminded the referee that a yellow card would see the brilliant Barcelona defender suspended for the second leg. With Puyol a full 25 yards away at this stage the referee finally brandished a yellow card.
The two quietest and yet paradoxically most glaring incidents came in injury time. With four minutes to play, plenty of time for Barcelona to grab a potentially crucial second 'away' goal, they launched waves of attacks. Twice as the ball went dangerously into the Inter penalty area, the referee blew his whistle for completely phantom 'offences'. Both Inter and Barcelona players alike looked confused. On neither occasion did anybody foul anybody, yet Inter were given a free out.
Basically Barcelona were not going to be allowed create any final, potentially tie-changing chances. The referee was making sure of it.
I know it is not just me screaming like some sort of crazed psychopath that everyone feels sorry for and takes a wide berth around on the sidewalk. Everybody is talking about the smaller incidents, which add to the sum that the game was completely crooked.
''Then the referee, Olegário Benquerenca of Portugal, who once awarded three penalties against Mourinho's Porto in a single league match, did the Inter manager the first of several favours by ignoring Esteban Cambiasso's stab of the foot at Messi's boot as the little genius danced into the penalty area.''
More on Messi's treatment by the Italians;
''He tried three of his characteristic slaloms through the defence in the first half, each halted by Inter's defenders with varying degrees of brusqueness''
It wasn't that Messi didn't get any protection from the referee, he didn't get anything at all, the only free kick he got was when he was literally shoved to the floor and then kicked in the head, and that was in a non-dangerous position.
Olegário Benquerenca certainly has an interesting track record. This from a UEFA cup match he took charge of in '09;
''And all bookings were completely out of order. Jenner's and Fritz's for protesting, Steinsson's for heading a ball while lying on the ground. Is that a foul in Portugal? And forward Koevermans wasn't allowed to even stand in Werder's penalty box. This was a fair match, two teams that respected each other. They would have been better off without a referee. Ridiculous.''
Of course not everyone agrees that the game was suspicious. When asked about the curious refereeing, Inter boss Jose Mourinho said;
"I don't feel that the referee influenced the outcome of this game, no. It's a pity he gave an offside against [Inter's] Diego Milito at the start when he was onside, but that's all."
I suppose you can rant and rave like a lunatic about perceived injustice in sports, and I have, and I will. However, unless it is as blatant as that Thierry Henry handball, FIFA/UEFA can successfully keep a lid on any crazy people raising too many concerns about the standard and indeed legality of officiating in their game.
Come to think of it, Henry and France got away with it too.
Morning's like this leave me wondering, what's the point in watching these games?