Wednesday, in separate home games, Spanish Football officiating gifted FC Barcelona and Real Madrid victories the teams might have otherwise obtained, but certainly did not end up earning on their own. Unfortunately, many smaller teams have long argued that this has been the default in La Liga for years. Today, it was an in-your-face disgrace that marred two otherwise entertaining matches.
At the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, referee Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez did not call a clear stomp-and- push-down-in-the-box penalty against Pepe on one end of the pitch while crediting Karim Benzema’s dive for a spot kick on the other. Cristiano Ronaldo missed the penalty, in a clear case of insufficient divine intervention as full retribution would have put the Real Sociedad side ahead at that point. The visitor’s own score, in what turned out to be a 3-1 Real win, was a pretty one that should have signified a draw and a point by game’s end.
In this match, at the fifteenth minute, Soceidad’s star striker and the scorer of 71% of the team’s goals, Imanol Agirrexte, was injured and had to be substituted. At the forty-fourth, team engine, midfielder Sergio Canales suffered a serious knee injury that might see him out for the season, and he also had to be substituted. Despite these critical losses, the team played Madrid even for stretches and hung on to a 1-2 score line that should have been 2-2 until the 86th minute when Lucas Vasquez marvelous one touch trap and set-up on the run, off a long Gareth Bale cross (his league leading seventh assit) to the top of the box, at the half-moon, settled the scoring.
At the Camp Nou, a horrific contested-ball collision between Betis keeper, Antonio Adan, and Barca’s Lionel Messi, left the diminutive Argentine flat on the pitch with a hard knock on the head. It was a scary moment. There was a lot of contact on the play, resembling more an American Football play. But, the goalkeeper went full out for the ball, and there was no intent to injure, as the clash was between Adan’s hip and Messi’s head.
But the referee Inaki Vicandi Garrido saw it as a penalty! Neymar hit the crossbar with his spot kick and the rebound came to German defender Heiko Westermann who tried to clear it. But behind Westermann was Ivan Rakitic who swung at the ball, missed, but struck the defender’s thigh—a clear foul which should have stopped all subsequent action. But the play continued and the force of Rakitic’s kick forced the defender’s leg to kick the ball into the net for a bizarre own goal that should have never been, twice.
The game, which ended 4-0 to the hosts, showcased the juggernaut that is this Barcelona with Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Messi as the irresistible offensive trident, but the match could not have been the cakewalk it turned out to be without the referee’s largesse, and that is the point all the small teams have been making. Much was made of the way Real Madrid defeated Rayo Vallecano 10-2, last week, when many of the refereeing calls seemed one sided in a match Real should have been able to win without officiating assistance.
In fairness to Barcelona, Messi’s goal (in his 500th game for Barca) off of Neymar’s beautiful assist, and Suarez’s closer off of Neymar’s fantasy assist, were in themselves worth the price of admission. They put a nice closing touch to the year in Spanish Football while pointing out that the ceremony at the beginning of the match, celebrating FC Barcelona’s trophy haul for the year, might well be repeated in another 366 days.