By Christiaan Frankin
AMSTERDAM – Fans of Ajax were outraged Wednesday, when a 7 goal difference between their team and Olympique Lyon was undone in the last round of the Champion’s League group stage matches. Not only did the linesman deny Ajax two legitimate goals for offside, some of Dinamo Zagreb’s defending was put into question as the Croatian goalkeeper was beaten seven times in twenty minutes.
Though the allegations of corruption in Champion’s League football are a serious matter, underlying are more important issues to the sport in today’s age.
After the match, Ajax manager Frank de Boer, though careful to make allegations, expressed his suspicions, saying, “If there was something unusual, UEFA should investigate what happened in Zagreb. My assistants have told me that the goals came quick and easy, because you can’t normally score these goals in half an hour.”
Dutch football analysis and former player Youri Mulder was quick to suggest the possibility of a fixed match, stating the score was “at the very least suspicious”
A reported wink from Dinamo defender Domagoj Vida to Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis, who set a Champion’s league record by scoring a hattrick within seven minutes, did little to quiet down the controversy around the controversial scoreline.
Declan Hill, author of ‘The Fix’, perhaps the most renowned and book on match fixing in football also commented that the 7-1 result fits the profile of a potentially rigged match. On his blog, Hill remarked, “any fair-minded person could be suspicious,” highlighting the progression of the match, the high stakes, and the historical prevalence of corruption in Croatian football as reason for suspicion.
There certainly is much evidence to suggest that Zagreb was the scene of a crime perpetrated on a greater scale than seen in a long scale in international football. But there is another side to the picture.
Dinamo Zagreb was, undeniably and throughout the group phase, the weakest team in this year’s installment of the Champion’s League, accumulating a total of zero points and conceding 15 goals in the five matches prior to Wednesday’s. Zagreb went a man down early, and perhaps a fired up Lyon squad desperately in need of goals was able to truly dominate over a demoralized and unmotivated Zagreb to the extent that the scoreline demonstrated.
Furthermore, The Champions League organizational body UEFA has announced on Thursday that their Betting Fraud Detection System did not identify any inconsistencies, and they will therefore not investigates Lyon’s unlikely victory, the Telegraph reported
Assuming the match was indeed fixed, then even with an official UEFA investigation it is likely that nothing conclusive could have been proven and that Ajax fans would still be disappointed with their team’s exit from the Champion’s League. As long as huge amounts of money are involved in the sport of football, there will be attempts to circumvent the rules of play.
Therefore, supporters of Ajax and those seeking justice should redirect their attention to another issues that many see as a fundamental flaw to the sport as it is today. Namely, the archaic system of linesmen that is so obviously susceptible to the factor of human error.
If the Portuguese linesman Bertino Miranda had not incorrectly denied Ajax two goals, the match would have ended quite differently, and the controversial score in Zagreb would likely have been of no importance.
Instead, the FIFA has resisted various forms of ensuring correct calls such as goal line technology and instant replays, allowing for such injustices to occur frequently at all levels of football.
Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA has defended this decision, arguing, “Other sports regularly change the laws of the game to react to the new technology. … We don’t do it and this makes the fascination and the popularity of football.”
Further criticism of instant replay technology is aimed at the perceived interruption to the flow of the game that these measures would bring. Yet, considering the amount of time that play is halted because of players arguing with the referee after a controversial decision, this can hardly be considered a serious concern.
Though Ajax, arguably unjustly, is out of this season’s Champion’s League, and will have to improve on their domestic form to even have a chance to participate next season, for the sake of the sport of football, it is time for FIFA to abandon its outdated stance on technology and accept that we live in an age where such human errors are no longer acceptable.
Fortunately, change may be underway since the 2010 World Cup when England’s Frank Lampard scored a clear goal that was controversially disallowed. The resulting wave of outrage has finally caused FIFA to investigate the possibility of implanting technologies to prevent such fiascos.
Mistakes happen, but when the means to prevent them are available, yet not utilized, it is truly inexcusable .