By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
Don’t praise Luca Antonini for his two great blocks, nor Massimo Ambrosini for his 90-minute policing job in front of a tip-top AC Milan back four. Don’t blame Alexis Sanchez for not making the most of his burst into the area, nor for his backheel to Xavi from a shooting position. The real reason Barcelona failed to beat the Rossoneri in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday night was that the pitch wasn't watered ... according to the Catalans.
On Thursday lunchtime, the Blaugrana submitted a formal complaint to Uefa, citing Milan’s refusal to water the pitch before the match or at half-time, having earlier agreed to do both under the guidelines set down by the European governing body.
Let’s be frank shall we - Barcelona drew 0-0 because they didn't play very well. Worse teams than the Spanish, European and world champions have turned up at the Giuseppe Meazza and got results this season, and will do so again. This complaint to Uefa simply holds no water – pardon the pun!
When Clarence Seedorf played a fantastically weighted pass into Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s feet in the 19th minute, the Swede should have hit the back of the net; partly because he has scored similar goals with his eyes closed for Milan, but more pertinently due to the fact that the Dutchman’s through-ball had been judged to perfection.
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They should count themselves lucky that they didn’t arrive in Lombardy two months ago ... or even six weeks ago. After the pitch was relaid over Christmas, there had been difficulties with the surface even before Inter hosted Palermo on a sheet of ice in the grip of the Italian winter in late January. When a temporary fix saw the two wings resurfaced, there were issues still when Arsenal visited three weeks on.
Since then the pitch has been relaid once more, with much more satisfactory results, but it remains a sometimes uneven surface, with divots coming up at times. It resembles to an extent the pitch at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, which has only a thin layer of soil between the top surface and the concrete base. But it’s hardly a cause for serious complaint.
Playing an away game should be testing in more ways than one. It shouldn't just be about the hostile crowd, it should also be an examination of a side in foreign surroundings, in conditions which may well not favour them. Just as in cricket, where home curators regularly prepare a wicket which best suits the local side, so too should football groundsmen be allowed to have the final call on how the pitch is prepared, so long as it stays within the parameters set out in the laws of the game.
This is hardly the same as when pin positions and sometimes entire holes were altered in golf in order to slow down the progress of the once-dominant Tiger Woods. Instead it simply asked for a minute change in the weight of passes. It was a challenge for the technically gifted Barcelona players to think on their feet and adjust their style ever so slightly. They failed the test, drew the game, and have now spat their dummies out instead.
It is this kind of behaviour which gives those who doubt Barca’s class off the pitch suitable ammunition. They are arguably the saviours of modern-day football, with their style on the ball mesmerising fans everywhere, yet their decision to argue the toss over a bit of water is the latest reason some neutrals are starting to turn their backs on them.
Whether it is a serious gripe, or simply a show of brinkmanship ahead of the second leg next Tuesday, Barcelona’s complaint in a classless one. Milan deserve credit for the way they matched the Catalans, whomever the elements favoured. True champions should accept the blow and move on.Follow Kris Voakes on