Sometimes you make your own luck in football.
Trailing 1-0 to Borussia Dortmund with five minutes to go in their UEFA Champions League match, Manchester City received a lifeline when referee Pavel Kralovec awarded the home side a penalty for a handball in the box on Neven Subotic.
At first viewing, the evidence appeared damning for the Dortmund defender, who had done so well throughout the match to keep the likes of Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli at bay but just couldn’t quite hold on for the incredible victory.
City striker Aguero turned on the edge of the six-yard box and fired a shot toward goal—a shot that Subotic tried to block and kick away in the air, but it hit his elbow and upper arm on the way toward the Dortmund goal.
It seemed like the right decision at the time, but after watching the footage time and time again, I’m not so sure that City actually deserved the penalty against Dortmund.
Let’s take a look at what the governing body for world football—FIFA—has to say on the subject of what does and does not constitute a handball (per FIFA.com):
A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).
A penalty kick is awarded [if this] offence is committed by a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play.
FIFA Laws of the Game 2011/12 – Law 12 ‘Fouls and Misconduct’
Now, with that in mind, let’s think back to the Subotic incident and make a judgment call on whether or not this was a deliberate infringement by the Dortmund defender or merely a case of being too close to the striker and unable to get out of the way.
Surely, it is the latter.
Subotic was so close to Aguero that he simply did not have time to move his arms out of the way—or his body, for that matter—for they were occupying a space on the pitch that the ball was quickly shot into without warning.
As the defender said via Sky Sports (per Goal.com) after the match:
Never. Not a chance.
He [Aguero] shoots from half a yard and I just have my hand. I’ve just seen the pictures, but obviously I have a hand, I can’t cut it off and he hits it.
I think it’s clear to see in the pictures that I wasn’t trying to get to the ball because I didn’t have time to react. Therefore, it was never in my life a penalty.
Unfortunately for Borussia Dortmund fans, he’s completely right. This should never have been awarded as a penalty decision, and the reigning German champions have every right to feel that they were robbed of an incredible 1-0 victory.
It has made their qualification aspirations much more difficult than if they had picked up all three points, and they now likely face a rematch against the reigning English champions in Germany for a place in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Hopefully, we won’t have any more controversial decisions like this one dominate that match, or the remainder of the Champions League.
City might not have deserved their penalty against Dortmund, but at the end of the day, the penalty was awarded, and the result is now in the books.
Let us discuss it and be frustrated by the incorrect call, but let us now move on and look forward to the remaining six months or so of fantastic European competition that is bound to come our way through the Champions League.
Handballs and all.
Should Manchester City have been awarded a penalty vs. Dortmund?
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