When UEFA conducted the draw for the Champions League Round of 16 back in December, there were two match-ups that made soccer fans salivate around the world. The pairings of giants Manchester City and Barcelona along with the pairing of defending champions Bayern Munich and Arsenal. Both pairings would produce less than dramatic results in their respective first legs after the English clubs were doomed with red cards.
On Tuesday in Manchester, it was City defender Martin Demichelis who would earn the red card in the 53rd minute after hacking down Barcelona striker Lionel Messi on a clear breakaway. It was an obvious red card, but the penalty given was controversial as it had appeared that Messi was fouled outside of the penalty area. Nonetheless, the momentum was shifted, Messi buried the penalty kick and Barcelona moved on with a critical 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium.
Arsneal befell the same fate on Wednesday, but they could be in even more trouble going into the second leg. The red card picked up in this match was given to Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in the 37th minute after he pulled down Arjen Robben in the penalty box. The penalty was subsequently missed by David Alaba, but the damage was already done. The red card comes with at least a one-game ban meaning that Arsenal will possibly have to start a backup goalkeeper down by two in the critical second leg.
The ban could be extinguished by appeal and it looks like this could be the case for Szczesny and the Gunners. Though there was clear contact between both players, Robben clearly embellished his fall. Robben does have a history of embellishment which could come into Arsenal’s advantage in this case.
FIFA law states that a player can be sent-off if that player “denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.”
In both cases the attacking player was in behind the defense with only the goalkeeper to beat. Both referees made the correct call in awarding the red cards and now the English clubs will only have themselves to blame for their inevitable elimination from this season’s Champions League.