In truth, we now have a blend of intense football rivalry, controversy and freedom of expression on the plate. The latter stages of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League are getting hotter as expected.
The first leg of the Barcelona-Milan Last 8 tie did not produce much noise. Although the San Siro pitch was visibly very sloppy at the dissatisfaction of the visitors, controversy-related talks did not rob the tie from what it was supposed to be about – the football on the field.
Actually, this is typical of Barcelona. They hardly analyse their matches with excuses – whether things go their way or not. Guardiola is known to “take results as they are” as football is most often a game of luck. However, some prefer to interpret that “luck” differently; in other words, through the word “cheating”.
“We didn't complain on penalties on the first leg,” former Barcelona captain Pep Guardiola reminded on Tuesday night as he examined his team’s qualification to the semi-finals of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League.
Barcelona were awarded two spot kicks which Lionel Messi successfully converted. The second penalty in the game is what particularly shocked AC Milan and a big portion of the public (obviously not from Barcelona’s huge pool of fans). The manner in which the penalty was given was questionable but coach Pep Guardiola feels referee Kuipers did the right thing.
“The replays show that it was a penalty both times. When you're holding the shirt of a player in the box, it’s a penalty. I’ve been taught this since I was a kid.”
Referee Kuipers is now likened to the unpopular Thomas Ovrebo. The latter infuriated Chelsea supporters and became an instant incarnation of appalling officiating as his performance at the Bridge fired Barcelona to the 2009 UEFA Champions League final.
However, Kuipers is not only surrounded by haters. For Brazilian star defender Dani Alves, the referee made proof of courage at the Camp Nou. Alves backed Guardiola’s comments during a post-match interview with reporters:
“The majority of referees don't have the personality they need [at this level]. If it's a tug in the area, then it should be given. So the referee showed character.”
On the contrary, former Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the Camp Nou stadium in anger on Tuesday night. The AC Milan goal poacher slammed the referee in typical fashion by telling Mediaset:
“How can he [B. Kuipers] give a penalty [the second one] like that? If he gave that penalty, he should have given me a penalty [in the second half before Iniesta’s goal].
“The game is not about the man in green. It's a shame. I couldn't believe he called a penalty when the ball wasn't in play. It seems like Uefa wants a certain two teams in the Champions League final. Now I understand how Mourinho feels every time he comes to Camp Nou.”
Ibrahimovic’s declaration did not go without reply. The man at the head of Barcelona’s coaching staff, Pep Guardiola, left a note via the press room.
“If Mister Ibrahimovic or Mourinho think we don’t deserve our qualification and that we are winning thanks to referees, I’ll say to them that we are going to play a semi-final for the fifth time in a row. And that actually means something.”
It means that Barcelona have a genuine chance of retaining their UEFA Champions League crown. The Catalans could meet Chelsea in a repeat of the 2009 semi-final tie. Such a match-up will be juicy. A case of revenge is on the mind of all anti-Barcelona supporters while the Catalans cherish this Last 8 triumph as an energizer for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, debates continue to rage on. It is as if controversy will never stop being an issue in big games involving Barcelona. Looking at the teams and match officials performances in the two legs, do AC Milan really have reasons to complain about their exit?