Recent results shine light on away goals rule, raising question of whether soccer still needs it

Recent results shine light on away goals rule, raising question of whether soccer still needs it

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Recent results shine light on away goals rule, raising question of whether soccer still needs it

InterTottenham (Getty)

By MIKE McCALL

Two days, two European competitions, two impressive comebacks undone by the away goals rule.

First, Arsenal notched a 2-0 victory at Bayern Munich on Wednesday, evening their two-legged Champions League Round of 16 clash at three goals each but seeing the German club advance via a 3-1 triumph in London.

Then, Inter Milan nearly completed the biggest turnaround in Europa League history on Thursday, beating Tottenham in a 4-1 extra-time thriller but coming up one goal short. Though each team won 3-0 at home and scored a goal in extra time, Spurs moved on by virtue of not conceding at White Hart Lane.

This is certainly nothing new, as the away goals rule has become ingrained in many areas of the sport since its introduction in 1965, but the tiebreaker has sparked its share of successes and debates.

Created to encourage more attacking play by visiting teams, the rule essentially adds a fraction of value to goals that are scored on the road — a fact that The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson argued is illogical, unfair and ineffective in a column this week.

But it has proponents too. In addition to the Champions League and Europa League, away goals count for more in FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the CONCACAF Champions League and Copa Libertadores, among others. Some, such as the UEFA tournaments and Capital One Cup, even use the rule to settle extra time, despite one team playing more minutes on the road than the other.

For example, Inter only had 90 minutes to snatch an away goal at Tottenham, while Spurs got theirs via Emmanuel Adebayor in the sixth minute of extra time.

MLS has resisted, choosing instead to use extra time and penalty shootouts, but the league does include road goals as a tiebreaker for playoff spots.

Supporters of the rule point to teams having to be more aggressive on the road, and that argument is backed by the balanced results of the Champions League knockout rounds thus far. In the Round of 16 matches, visiting teams won six, drew four and lost six, and only two series have been decided by away goals in the past two years: Bayern over Arsenal, and Marseille over Inter Milan in 2012.

But detractors like Wilson and Zonal Marking say the rule has had a reverse effect, making home teams too defensive for fear of conceding the all-important goal — although it’s easy to imagine road teams playing ultra-defensively under different circumstances.

Of course, there are some situations that are a bit puzzling, like when AC Milan and Inter faced off during the 2003 Champions League semifinals at the shared San Siro.

Eventual champion AC Milan advanced after draws of 0-0 and 1-1, with the second leg coming when AC Milan was the “away” team and more tickets had been allotted to Inter fans.

For an even wilder example, there’s the first round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in 2010, when the British Virgin Islands agreed to play two matches against the Bahamas in Nassau after their home stadium didn’t meet FIFA standards.

The first leg ended 1-1, and BVI finished the second in dramatic fashion with a 90th-minute penalty kick to force a 2-2 draw, but the goal wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that they were playing at “home” in that match, and the Bahamas advanced.

But there are positives as well. The away goals rule helped produce a thriller during the Seattle Sounders’ CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal win over Tigres on Tuesday. After the Mexican side struck first in Seattle to take a 2-0 lead on aggregate, the Sounders had to push for three to overcome the tiebreaker and move on to the semifinals.

What do you think? Is the away goals rule good for soccer? Is it a break from logic? Do you hope to see an LA Galaxy-Chivas USA playoff series come down to away goals some day?

Share your thoughts below.

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