Truths of the Modern Game Revealed

By Paul Gardner

An intriguing game, the Celtic-Juventus Champions League clash. Intriguing and revealing. Because it did reveal some oft-obscured truths about the modern game: Truths About ...

… ITALIAN SOCCER: The 3-0 defeat that Celtic suffered -- on its home field -- was harsh, of course it was. But no one should be surprised when an Italian team wins away from home. They’ve been doing it for decades, so they’re masters of the art. Clever, resourceful, and canny in defense, swift, skillful and deadly on the counter. Masters at absorbing pressure, masters at scoring those breakaway goals.

Celtic surely knew, certainly should have known, all about that. Yet they played exactly the sort of game that Juventus might have wished for: waves of predictable attacking play, surges forward that left jittery defenders dangerously exposed.

In the old days, the days when the infamous catenaccio was at its zenith, back in the 1960s, a game like this would probably have seen Celtic with the lion’s share of possession, say 70%, and a scoreline of 1-0 to Juventus.

But things have changed. The ultra-defensive, game-killing rigidity of catenaccio has been laid to rest. Juventus had plenty of the ball against Celtic; the official stats actually show the Italians with a 51%-49% advantage. So the goalscoring opportunities are increased ... but with patience.

No waves of all-out attacking for Juventus, just probing and teasing -- but never, never in a way that found them outnumbered in defense. With an occasional long ball forward.

… CROSSES: Juventus, then, made use of a varied attack. No such comment can be made about the Celtic offense which, predictably, relied heavily on crosses -- or more accurately, high balls played into the Juventus goalmouth -- crosses, corner kicks, free kicks, long throws.

I counted 35 such high balls. None of them produced a goal (one of them probably should have done, but Efe Ambrose destroyed the chance by heading the ball weakly -- and straight at Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon).

Virtually all of these balls count as speculative -- not passes, simply balls that were dropped into the danger area, hoping that something would happen, hoping that it would be a Celtic player to get on the end of them. But how likely was that -- against an Italian defense, and one that knew what to expect anyway? “We saw they scored many goals from corners and with crosses into the box, so we tried our best to make it difficult for them,” was the comment of Claudio Marchisio, scorer of Juve’s second goal.

One day, some strangely distant day, it will occur to the minds who control British soccer that crosses are a demonstrably low-percentage method of scoring goals. In this game -- 35 crosses, no goals, only one shot on goal.

Ten minutes into the second half, TV commentator Davie Provan (a former Celtic player) observed that “Juventus have defended crosses really well tonight.” They had. But it was not difficult.

… THOSE EXTRA OFFICIALS: I mean the Additional Assistant Referees, the AARs, who stand on the goal line near the goal, one at each end, and are in radio contact with the referee. They tell him, it is believed, about incidents in the penalty area and, most importantly, they judge on whether the ball has crossed the goal line into the goal. They are, clearly, well-positioned to see all of that, better than the ARs, better than the referee.

They are the pet idea of UEFA president Michel Platini, his preferred option to goal-line technology (GLT). They sound like a great idea, but in practice they are proving to be of little use. Because they don’t seem to see anything. Prize Exhibit 1 came during Euro 2012 when the perfectly positioned AAR failed to validate a Ukrainian goal against England, even though the ball had clearly crossed the goal line.

Exactly the same thing happened in the Celtic-Juventus game. That early Juventus goal came after a shot from Alessandro Matri had been scrambled out of the Celtic goalmouth. At that point, no indication was given by any of the officials, so play continued for another couple of seconds, time enough for Marchisio to latch on to the loose ball and slam it into the net. At which point the referee blew for a goal. It is clear he was signaling a goal by Marchisio.

The official UEFA website gives the goal to Matri -- which is correct, both in terms of what actually happened, and in terms of fairness -- Matri’s shot clearly had entered the net. But the decision to award the goal to Matri is not correct, not technically correct, when referring to the referee’s action. He did not signal a goal after Matri’s shot, but only after Marchisio’s. The blame for that error lies squarely with the AAR who failed to see that the ball had entered the net. UEFA might like to explain how it is able to revisit that action and award a goal that the referee, by his lack of action, had ruled was not a goal.

... STAYING ON YOUR FEET: This is the war-cry of the anti-diving mob, who rant on about players who “go down too easily.” They should take a look at events right at the end of the first half of this game. In the 46th minute, Celtic’s Honduran defender Emilio Izaguirre had played the ball past Mirko Vucinic and was sprinting to catch up with it. Vucinic ran across and behind Izaguirre, lightly clipping his legs. “Not much contact there,” as the witless anti-divers would say -- but enough to cause Izaguirre to stumble as he ran forward, trying to stay on his feet. After two or three paces, Izaguirre lost his balance completely and pitched forward on to the ground. While this was happening, Vucinic was indicating that he hadn’t touched Izaguirre, and the ball ran over the sideline. So Izaguirre’s reward for trying to stay on his feet was that he lost control of the ball, he did not get a warranted free kick ... and Juventus got the throw-in. He also evoked this gem from commentator Davie Provan, who thought there should have been a free kick, but that Izaguirre “took too long to go down.”

9 comments about "Truths of the Modern Game Revealed".
  1. Peter Skouras, February 13, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.

    Paul...why did SA take down the article regarding players from Academy clubs going to colleges? Please don't laugh at the question...actually, it's a very serious problem as the question is, for what reason are there academies? For the Professional clubs or Colleges? Obviously the latter! The issue is so elementary that the "Master Degree" holders who are running the game in this country are...! Please repost this will give you and your staff something to really ponder! Great topic!

  2. Mike Maurer, February 13, 2013 at 11:35 p.m.

    Seemed to me that Celtic produced plenty of chances and were unlucky to have a scored. I dont remember the buildup for the third goal but the first two were simple errors by the celtic defense. Paul's review seems a little harsh towards Celtic. Without the star power hat Juve had i thought they put in a good effort despite the crucial mistakes. It was only a matter time for them and their overachieving to come to an end...

  3. R2 Dad, February 13, 2013 at 11:53 p.m.

    I thought there would be mention of the wrestling in the box, given your December 18th column (More curious tales from the world of English refereeing). Which goes to show the German referee wasn't any more up to the task than the English ones in the BPL have been this year. We heard there were verbal warnings throughout, saw cards given to the grecoromans on both sides, but there were takedowns all the way up through 90 mins. Until defenders in the box are punished and free kicks given, that behavior won't stop. As far as the AARs go, they have to be looking straight down the endline/byline to correctly judge whether that ball is in or not; I've mostly seen them behind the goal even as attackers close in.

  4. Aris Protopapadakis, February 14, 2013 at 12:21 a.m.

    So the barbarians fought "valiantly", red-blooded lads that they are. They tried to push and kick and trip their way to a goal and got exactly what they deserved. And their coach complains about the Juve guys pushing & shoving? Gime a break. What awful football, what lack of skill, imagination & creativity!
    The sooner the Celtic go out of the tournament the better.

  5. Michael Borga, February 14, 2013 at 8:22 a.m.

    Never have understood why a pundit would make a statement like this:

    "In the old days, the days when the infamous catenaccio was at its zenith, back in the 1960s, a game like this would probably have seen Celtic with the lion’s share of possession, say 70%, and a scoreline of 1-0 to Juventus.

    But things have changed. The ultra-defensive, game-killing rigidity of catenaccio has been laid to rest. "

    I always thought the point of the game was to finish with more goals than the other team. If Celtic has just sat back and defended like Chelsea did against Barcelona they tactically would have stood a better chance of winning.

    Even Mr. Gardner asks why Celtic didn't play more like the catenaccio when he states "Yet they played exactly the sort of game that Juventus might have wished for: waves of predictable attacking play, surges forward that left jittery defenders dangerously exposed."

    Just a thought,

    And if anyone really wants more goals scored in the game, just start awarding PKs for the wrassling going on during the corner kicks, that is the obvious reason more goals were scored from corners in the past. If the only player left standing in the box is the goal keeper on corners it is highly unlikely that many goals will be scored.

    R2 Dad has that correct.

  6. R2 Dad, February 15, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.

    Correction: German Byrch did the MU v RM match. The Celtic v Juventus ref was Spaniard Mallenco.

  7. R2 Dad, February 16, 2013 at 12:50 a.m.

    Well, apparently I'm wrong:

    January 19, 2013

    Holding an opponent
    Holding an opponent includes the act of preventing him from moving past or around using the hands, the arms or the body.
    Referees are reminded to make an early intervention and to deal firmly with holding offenses especially inside the penalty area at corner kicks and free kicks.

    To deal with these situations:
    • the referee must warn any player holding an opponent before the ball is in play
    • caution the player if the holding continues before the ball is in play
    • award a direct free kick or penalty kick and caution the player if it happens once the ball is in play
    If a defender starts holding an attacker outside the penalty area and continues holding him inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick.

    Disciplinary sanctions
    • A caution for unsporting behavior must be issued when a player holds an opponent to prevent him gaining possession of the ball or taking up an advantageous position
    • A player must be sent off if he denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity by holding an opponent
    • No further disciplinary action must be taken in other situations of holding an opponent
    Restart of play
    • Direct free kick from the position where the offense occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick) or a penalty kick if the offense occurred inside the penalty area

    I thought this covered it:

    Indirect free kick

    An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player:
    -impedes the progress of an opponent

  8. Ramon Creager, February 17, 2013 at 8:09 p.m.

    R2 Dad, I felt as I watched the game that Gary Hooper was the instigator on most of those incidents. He was continuously trying to impede Buffon, and the defender was trying to keep that from happening. As you subsequently point out, that is an offense; players are entitled their position, but not to actively impede an opponent without the ball. It's unreasonable to expect defenders to allow this to go unchallenged and let the referee handle it; that could result in a goal if the ref doesn't do anything about it, so you get these wrestling matches. What I would have preferred to see is for Hooper to get the yellow card, but not the defender. I don't think you settle anything by giving both the yellow.

  9. Jamie Nicewander, February 27, 2013 at 12:19 a.m.

    Literally every time i see a referee give a card to both players i have to think about how inept the referee appears because he obviosuly missed the initial foul and is usually giving a card to both to minimize the fact he 'missed' a call.
    ..I do wonder about 'dumping' the ball into the seemed so predictable and an inaccurate waste of a good passing/shooting opportunity.

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