Here’s what happened on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, in case you missed it…
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Ajax 3, AEK Athens 0 || Benfica 0, Bayern Munich 2 || Shakhtar Donetsk 2, Hoffenheim 2 || Manchester City 1, Lyon 2 || Real Madrid 3, AS Roma 0 || Viktoria Plzen 2, CSKA Moscow 2 || Valencia 0, Juventus 2 || Young Boys 0, Manchester United 3
THE BIG STORY
Ridiculous red card for Ronaldo
All eyes were on Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium as Cristiano Ronaldo was set to make his Champions League debut for Juventus. A day after Lionel Messi scored a hat trick in Barcelona’s romp over PSV Eindhoven, the stage was set for Ronaldo to overshadow his rival upon his return to Spain. The Portuguese star did just that, but not in the manner expected.
After creating two scoring chances for teammates, Ronaldo was sent off in the 29th minute – his fist ever red card in the Champions League – after tangling up with Valencia defender Jeison Murillo. Ronaldo felt Murillo went down too easily in hopes of earning a foul, and the Portuguese responded by putting his hand to the back of the defender’s head. After consulting with his assistant behind the goal, referee Felix Brych showed Ronaldo a straight red card.
Confusion quickly turned to sadness, with Ronaldo reduced to tears as he pleaded his innocence before walking off the pitch. Forced to play the remainder of the match a man short, Juventus put in a sensational showing in Spain, recording a 2-0 win courtesy of a pair of penalties from Miralem Pjanic.
As expected, social media blew up in an instant, with commentators and fans debating whether Ronaldo deserved to be red carded. The Juventus star clearly put his hand to the back of Murillo’s head, but video replays proved inconclusive as to whether he tapped him on the head or pulled his hair. Whatever happened, there wasn’t much in it – certainly nothing that rises to the level of being considered “violent conduct.” Nevertheless, Ronaldo was sent off.
It raises the question: Have we really become so pedantic and reached a point where a tame hair pull (or a docile tap on the head) for a fraction of a second is deemed “violent conduct” and worthy of a red card? By the letter of the law, sure. But surely common sense should prevail. Simply put, the red card on Ronaldo was patently ridiculous.
If refs went by the letter of the law, there’d be a penalty called on the majority of corner kicks for all the tussling and shirt pulling going on inside the box, and they’d hand out a dozen cards by the end of the match.
Referees make judgements all the time, and they often don’t call infractions because they don’t want to slow down the game due to inconsequential fouls. Mr. Brych and his assistant will be well-advised to remember that going forward.
If any good comes from this, it’ll be that the introduction of VAR to the UEFA Champions League will come sooner, rather than later. One can’t help but wonder if the VAR would have overturned the red card given to Ronaldo had they had a chance to review it. We’ll never know.
With Ajax leading 2-0 in the 90th minute, Argentina defender Nicolás Tagliafico managed to get behind AEK Athens’ back line and looped a shot from an acute angle over the head of goalkeeper Vasilios Barkas and inside the far post. A stunning strike.
Just five minutes after stepping onto the pitch as a substitute, Maycon levelled the score for Shakhtar Donetsk with a pile driver of a shot from 23 yards out that sailed past a diving Oliver Baumann inside the Hoffenheim bet and nestled inside the far post.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Hoffenheim battled to an entertaining 2-2 draw in Ukraine in a match marked by end-to-end open play, both teams playing with attacking intent, and some lovely goals.
“I can only say that VAR would’ve helped the referee in this decision. Going down to 10 men in the Champions League for an incident like that is disappointing.” – Juventus manager Max Allegri
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Cristiano Ronaldo received his first red card in the Champions League in his 154th appearance in the competition.
• Nicolás Tagliafico’s goal for Ajax was the 500th scored by an Argentinian in Champions League history (not including own-goals).
• At 31 years and 58 days, Hoffenheim’s Jullian Nagelsmann is the youngest ever manager in Champions League history.
• Manchester City is the first English team to lose four consecutive Champions League matches in the competition’s history.
• Thomas Muller is the third German player (after Philipp Lahm and Oliver Kahn) to reach 100 Champions League appearances.
• With his appearance for Hoffenheim against Shakhtar Donetsk, Reiss Nelson becomes the eighth Englishman to make his Champions League debut for a non-British club.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Paul Pogba, Manchester United: The Frenchman put in a man-of-the-match effort in scoring two goals and setting up a third against Young Boys.
2) Nicolás Tagliafico, Ajax: The Argentine bagged two goals – the second on a lovely, looping finish – to guide Ajax past AEK Athens.
3) Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus: Quarterbacked a Juventus defence that gave away very little while playing a man down away to Valencia.