November 8 – Was it the most disgraceful penalty call in refereeing history at either European or domestic top-flight level?
Judging by the reaction on social media where it prompted an outpouring of incredulity, the answer is a resounding yes and it’s hard to disagree.
Whether the blame should lie with Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling or the Hungarian referee – or a mixture of both – Wednesday night’s incident would have been regarded as comical at grass-roots or even schoolboy level, never mind in the Champions League.
To recap for anyone who hasn’t seen it, Sterling was through on goal with his side 1-0 up against Shakhtar Donetsk but instead of connecting with the ball jabbed the end of his boot into the turf, threw himself high into the air and collapsed to the floor.
Shakhtar’s Mykola Matviyenko was yards away from Sterling, nowhere near contact range, yet referee Viktor Kassai was convinced the defender had clipped the England striker.
Neither the linesman nor the official behind the goal did anything to save their colleague’s blushes but if UEFA have got any sense, they will ban Kassai – and maybe his assistants – from officiating again this season as punishment for the farcical call that left players on both sides shaking their heads, let alone the thousands in the stands and millions more watching on television.
City went on to win the game 6-0 in their trademark majestic style but who knows what might have happened if Kassai had done his job properly?
For his part Sterling apologised after the match, telling BT Sport: “I went to chip the ball and don’t know what happened. I didn’t feel contact. I scuffed the ball. Apologies to the ref and apologies to Shakhtar.”
Too little, too late. The day when players are big enough to admit to the referee they have not been touched may be a long way off but this was like nothing that has gone before, a combination of blatant simulation and refereeing so amateurish, it defied belief.
An embarrassed City manager Pep Guardiola agreed that the referee had got it badly wrong and said the incident, with Sterling effectively fouled by his own toe, highlighted the need for the video assistant referee (VAR) system to be introduced.
“We don’t like to score in that situation,” said Guardiola, who conceded Sterling could indeed have told the referee at the time. “VAR, where is it? The referees said a long time ago there must be help, because they want to make a good performance, they don’t want to make mistakes.”
No sooner had the Sterling incident taken place than UEFA announced that VARs could be introduced into the latter stages of this season’s Champions League.
UEFA announced in September that VAR will be phased in from 2019 but the BBC said this could now be fast-tracked.
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