Scottish referee Craig Thomson is again the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons after a controversial goal by AC Milan was allowed to stand in the first leg of their Champions Leg elimination round fixture against Barcelona.
In a case of referee unrest upstaging upset, the highly anticipated clash between two of football’s giants was deflated by Wednesday’s botched call, with Thomson and his assistants completely missing a blatant hand ball which set up the winning goal.
The decision has left neutral fans and Barcelona supporters wondering what on earth was Thomson thinking when they allowed this goal to stand
The 56th minute strike by Kevin-Prince Boateng came after teammate Cristian Zapata clearly handled the ball at the top of the Barcelona penalty area.
Zapata had his hands up in front of his head as he jumped in an attempt to head a Riccardo Montolivo free kick towards goal, but instead of making contact with Zapata’s head, the ball first deflected off the hands of Barcelona defender Dani Alves and straight into the hands Zapata.
After hitting the hands and arms of two players, the ball then fell into the path of Boateng who easily converted his shot from point blank range.
Barcelona interim coach Jordi Roura deflected questions about the hand ball after the match as did his players, choosing not to add to the controversy ahead of the two team’s rematch.
“The result is what it is. We had the game under control, although admittedly we didn’t create too many clear chances and neither did they,” said Roura.
Gerard Pique was one of many Barcelona players to protest the awarding of the goal but received a yellow card from Thomson for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“We played badly and can’t make any excuses. When they scored the first we lost control [of the game],” Pique said.
A video clip of the goal posted by FoxSports clearly shows the ball coming off of Zapata’s hands before Boateng’s goal:
The lack of a call on either handball baffled ESPN match commentators and also raises the question of how the extra official behind the Barcelona goal missed this one too.
Others have argued that Zapata’s hand ball was unintentional because of the speed at which the ball deflected off his opponent and then onto his own hand.
Immediately following the match, former West Ham and Ipswich goalkeeper Craig Forrest - citing passages from the FIFA rulebook on hand balls, told Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet that he thought Thomson made the right decision in not disallowing the goal.
“It’s a case of talk about an unexpected ball…since it deflects of the Barcelona player Alves before it hits Zapata,” said Forrest. “For me the distance between the two players is very, very close…Zapata tries to get out of the way and the ball comes off his hand, it’s too close between the two players [for Zapata to react], I think the referee absolutely nailed this one and got it right there should be nothing wrong with that goal in my opinion.”
But to many others including Barcelona fans and even casual observers, the location of Zapata’s hands during the offence are a dead giveaway for them that the goal should have been disallowed.
When a players’ arms are thrust high in the air and not by the side of the body when he makes contact with the ball it is an open invitation for most referee’s to whistle for a foul.
In the end the no-call by Thomson was clearly the game-breaker for the Catalan giants and gave Milan all the momentum and at the end of the day a surprise 1-0 lead in the two-leg playoff.
The Serie A club would later add to their tally after a fully legal and clinical strike by Sully Ali Muntari in the 80th minute to round out the scoring.
A Champions League match on Tuesday was also derailed after English referee Mark Clattenburg allowed a goal by Porto which was clearly offside.
The two latest controversies in the Champions League goes against the recent trend, as referees seemed to have intentially kept themselves out of the sporlight since the February 5th bombshell when police body Europol unveiled a global match-fixing scandal.
It is not the first time Thomson has been at the centre of controversy.
During last summer’s Euro 2012 tournament he drew the ire of Polish fans for allowing an obvious hand ball by Czech Republic.
In Euro 2012 qualifying, Thomson had Bosnian fans up in arms for his performance in a match which sent France to Euro 2012 and eliminated Bosnia.
In some infamous SPL decisions, Thomson has won no support from Hibs fans and once drew the ire of Rangers manager Walter Smith for his controversial decisions.