Real Madrid is moving on the Champions League semifinals. But not without a scare. And not without controversy.
Los Blancos blew a 3-0 first-leg lead to Juventus, and appeared to be headed for extra time at the Santiago Bernabeu when Cristiano Ronaldo, in the third of three minutes of second-half stoppage time, rose for a header at the back post. He knocked it down to Lucas Vazquez, free in the center of the penalty box, eight yards from goal, the game at his mercy. And Vazquez tumbled to the turf.
Or was he sent tumbling by Juventus’ Medhi Benatia? That’s what referee Michael Oliver decided. Oliver pointed to the penalty spot.
Drama, drama, drama!
Here's another look at the penalty decision in stoppage time and the red card to Gigi Buffon. pic.twitter.com/BJHJd7rP08
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 11, 2018
Before we take a side and answer the question of whether or not Oliver was correct, it’s only fair to point out just how difficult a decision this is. If one thing is clear, it’s that the call would not have been overturned by video review. It was not a “clear and obvious error.” Whether Oliver whistled or waved away appeals, he would have been crucified. He would have been surrounded by furious players. He sent off Buffon; he might have instead had to send off a Real Madrid player or coach if he had chosen the other side.
There’s no right answer to whether or not it was a penalty. It is, though, very clear why Oliver would give it. Benatia clearly comes from behind Vazquez and makes an attempt to play the ball. Vazquez falls over. From Oliver’s position – which may have obstructed his view of the play – Benatia made enough contact to warrant a foul.
The question is how much contact there was. It doesn’t really matter that Benatia ultimately got a slight touch to the ball with his foot. If his knee or leg clattered into Vazquez’s back or shoulder first, or even simultaneously, it’s a penalty.
But was Vazquez already going down before the challenge came? He appeared to sense contact coming. Was there really that much in the end? Juventus players and fans will argue there wasn’t.
Replays are inconclusive – which shows just how difficult a call it was. The assistant referee on the goal line wasn’t in position to see the contact from behind, either. He was staring straight at Vazquez’s front side.
If Vazquez did dive, or at least accentuate the contact, he did so with perfect timing. He fell to the ground just as Benatia arrived on his back, just before the ball arrives at his chest. His collapse wasn’t sudden; it was somewhat slow, which suggests he might have begun to fall before the contact. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t contact, and that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a penalty.
So the answer? Again, it’s inconclusive.
But there was certainly some contact between Benatia and Vazquez. Because Vazquez was in position to play the ball, and because the contact came before either he or Benatia did play the ball, Oliver’s decision was probably correct. There’s no way to prove Vazquez embellished or exaggerated the contact. It was a heartbreaking way for Juventus to lose the game. But just because it was a bold call from Oliver, doesn’t mean it was the incorrect one.
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