By KS Leong
Ahead of last week's first leg quarter-final clash between AC Milan and Barca, Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho had voiced his hope that the football spectacle rather than the match officials would be the talking point after the final whistle. Neither happened as the focus fell on the San Siro pitch.
But in the return leg at Camp Nou on Tuesday night when the Catalans won 3-1 to become the first club to make five successive semi-final appearances in the Champions League era, and despite Lionel Messi equalling Jose Altafini's record of scoring the highest number of goals in a single European Cup campaign, the spotlight was all on one man: the referee.
Ever since Pep Guardiola took charge of the Blaugrana in 2008 and led the team to victory after victory, success after success, the club have been accused of winning favourable decisions from match officials.
Below, Goal.com looks at the recent controversial refereeing decisions involving Barcelona in the Champions League.
|CHELSEA 1-1 BARCELONA
May 6, 2009: Champions League semi-final second leg
Chelsea's rivalry with Barcelona started even before this highly controversial clash in 2009 when Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard were in charge of the two respective sides. But when the Blaugrana somehow escaped as many as five penalties in the second leg of the semi-finals at Stamford Bridge, eyebrows were raised. After a 0-0 stalemate in the first leg, the Blues took the lead in the return clash as early as the ninth minute through Michael Essien.
Over the remainder of the encounter, Guus Hiddink's men made five penalty claims: the various shouts ranged from Eric Abidal pulling Didier Drogba's shirt, Dani Alves hauling down Florent Malouda inside the box only to be awarded a free kick, and handball appeals when Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto'o blocked Chelsea's attempts at goal with their arms.
Andres Iniesta went on to score a humdinger in injury time to salvage a 1-1 draw and send Barca through on away goals. But his sumptuous effort was overshadowed by one man: Tom Henning Ovrebo.
|BARCELONA 1-0 INTER
April 24, 2010: Champions League semi-final second leg
This was the game that turned Sergio Busquets from midfielder to actor. After going down 3-1 to Inter in the first leg, Barca's attempted fightback began with Thiago Motta's sending off. The Nerazzurri man swung his arm back to fend off Busquets and connected with his chin, and the young Spaniard went crumbling to ground.
Many would argue that an arm across the face warrants a card, no matter the severity of the contact, and even if it was to be a yellow instead of the straight red, Motta would have walked. But Busquets being caught on camera peeking through his fingers to see whether his efforts had paid off didn't help referee Franck De Bleeckere's case.
The man advantage didn't work in Barca's favour, however, as it prompted Mourinho to put every Inter man behind the ball for the remaining hour of the game to see off the tie 3-2 on aggregate. But De Bleeckere's debatable refereeing performance did come back to bite Guardiola's side as he disallowed Bojan Krkic's late effort - a goal which would have sent Barcelona through - when he deemed Yaya Toure had deliberately handled Lucio's clearance in the build up.
|BARCELONA 3-1 ARSENAL
March 8, 2011: Champions League last-16 second leg
After being demolished 4-1 by Barca, and Messi in particular, the previous season at Camp Nou, Arsenal looked as though they had the measure of the Catalans in this last-16 encounter in 2011. The Gunners won 2-1 at home in the first leg and held on for an entire half in the second before Messi scored two minutes into injury time in the first period.
The momentum was with the Catalans at the interval as they held the advantage of away goals, but Busquets heading the ball into his own net eight minutes into the restart swung the tide back Arsenal's way with a 3-2 aggregate cushion. Then came the turning point. Three minutes after the own goal, Robin van Persie was shown his second yellow card of the night when he "kicked the ball away" by taking a shot at goal after the whistle had gone for offside. Barca went on to score the two goals they required to advance 4-3 on aggregate.
Van Persie claimed after the match that he could not have heard the whistle, and he struck the ball away just one second after Massimo Busacca had blown his whistle.
|REAL MADRID 0-2 BARCELONA
April 27, 2011: Champions League semi-final first leg
Last season's chaotic Clasico series was littered with incidents and debates, all of which culminated in the highly-anticipated Champions League semi-final showdown. The controversy had started in the first-leg meeting, where Real Madrid went down 2-0 at home. Barca netted both their goals through Messi, but only after Pepe had been sent off in the 61st minute for a challenge on Dani Alves. Mourinho's sarcastic applause at referee Wolfgang Stark's decision also earned him a dismissal from the bench. After the encounter, Pepe and some of his Madrid team-mates accused the Barca right-back of play-acting and claimed that there was no contact made with the Brazilian before he spun to the ground clutching his ankle.
In his post-match press conference, Mourinho infamously went on his tirade and cried conspiracy, accusing Uefa, and even Unicef, of collaborating with the Blaugrana. One of Jose's more memorable lines was: "If I tell Uefa what I really think and feel, my career would end now. Instead I will just ask a question, to which I hope one day to get a response: Why? Why? Why Ovrebo? Why Busacca? Why De Bleeckere? Why Stark? Why?"
More sparks were to fly in the second leg, where a certain De Bleeckere indeed returned to the spotlight. With the score on the night still 0-0, the referee disallowed Gonzalo Higuain's goal after he deemed Cristiano Ronaldo had clipped and brought down Javier Mascherano in the build up. The game finished 1-1 and Barca advanced to the final 3-1 on aggregate.
|BARCELONA 3-1 MILAN
April 4, 2012: Champions League quarter-final second leg
The trend of controversial second leg Barcelona calls continued last night, and it was yet another decision that proved to be the turning point of the game, if not the tie. After a goalless draw in Milan in the first leg, Messi opened the scoring as early as the 11th minute of the second leg through a penalty. But Antonio Nocerino's equaliser just past the half-hour mark tipped the advantage towards the Rossoneri on the away-goal rule. Five minutes before the break, the complexion of the game would change when the Blaugrana were given another spot-kick by Bjorn Kuipers.
While the first penalty award was rightly unprotested by the Milan camp, the second left the Italians frustrated and bemused. Alessandro Nesta had held back Busquets by pulling his shirt as a corner was about to be swung in, while Carles Puyol also got in the act by trying to shove the Rossoneri defender away. It was a debatable call because the infringement happened when the ball was not yet in play. Messi converted from the spot and Andres Iniesta added a killer third goal early in the second period as the Catalans saw out the tie 3-1 on aggregate.
After the game, Clarence Seedorf argued that "if he [the referee] saw that a foul was being committed [before the ball was in play], he should have stopped the game, which is what always happens" while Zlatan Ibrahimovic cried conspiracy and said, "If he gave that penalty, he should have given my penalty."
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