UEFA’s away goal rule ban and what it means for football

European football governing body, UEFA, on Thursday 24 June abolished the away goal rule in all club competitions with effect from 2021/22 season.

This means ties that are still level after two matches will go to extra time and penalties.

UEFA says the decision will make for a fairer contest

“The away goals rule has been an intrinsic part of UEFA competitions since it was introduced in 1965. However, the question of its abolition has been debated at various UEFA meetings over the last few years.

“Although there was no unanimity of views, many coaches, fans, and other football stakeholders have questioned its fairness and have expressed a preference for the rule to be abolished.”

Read Also: UEFA makes changes in UCL and Europa League, scraps away goal rule

Ceferin added: “The impact of the rule now runs counter to its original purpose as, in fact, it now dissuades home teams – especially in first legs – from attacking, because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.

“There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.

“It is fair to say that home advantage is nowadays no longer as significant as it once was.

“Taking into consideration the consistency across Europe in terms of styles of play, and many different factors which have led to a decline in home advantage, the UEFA Executive Committee has taken the correct decision in adopting the view that it is no longer appropriate for an away goal to carry more weight than one scored at home.”

But the big question here is that will football still be competitive and attractive to watch, particularly the prestigious UEFA Champions League? Or will the scrapping of the away goal rule bring about more attacking and fluid football?

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Why the rule was introduced

Looking back in 1965 when the rule was introduced during the 1965-66 World Cup; the aim was to encourage teams to play more attacking football away from home and to abolish playoff matches at a neutral venue, which led to logistical and scheduling problems.

In an attempt to liven up the two-legged playoff matches, especially the first of the two matches, the knockout rounds of the Champions League, considered to be the toughest club competition in the world, and other Cup tournaments in Europe will no longer have the controversial away goals rule.

This means that matches that are level on scores after two legs will now be decided via 30 minutes of extra time.

In a two-legged knockout-round match, if the aggregate scores are level after 180 minutes of regulation time, then the team that has scored more goals away from home advance to the next round.

For instance, in the 2019 Champions League semifinals, Tottenham Hotspur lost the first leg at their home 1-0. However, they won the away match in Amsterdam 3-2. The tie was level at 3-3 but since Tottenham scored more goals away from home, they were declared winners.

In case both teams have scored the same number of goals at home and away at the end of both legs, then the standard tie-break rules prevail: 30 minutes of extra time followed by penalties, if necessary.

The rule was first put into use during the second-round match of the Cup Winners Cup in November 1965 between Czech club Dukla Prague and Hungary’s Budapest Honved. The tie finished 4-4 and Honved advanced because they scored three goals away from home, one more than Dukla, who scored just two at Budapest.

The rule was enforced in the European Cup, now Champions League, in 1967 and has since then been applied at almost all football tournaments across the world.

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Why UEFA scrapped the rule?

UEFA provided statistical evidence that there has been a reduction in home wins and goals in the club competitions they conduct over the last four decades.

UEFA statement: “Statistics from the mid-1970s until now show a clear trend of continuous reduction in the gap between the number of home/away wins (from 61%/19% to 47%/30%) and the average number of goals per match scored at home/away (from 2.02/0.95 to 1.58/1.15) in men’s competitions.”

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin was quoted as saying that the away goal rule not only run counter to its original purpose as, it now dissuades home teams – especially in first legs – from attacking, because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.

It often led to cagey first-leg games, in which the home team has been reluctant to commit many men forward to avoid conceding goals while hoping they would nick a goal away from home in the second leg. If the scoreline at the end of the first leg remained close, it would lead to an open second leg, with both teams standing a chance to win.

The rule looks long outdated

Many coaches have condemned the rule, especially in the Champions League. In 2015, after Arsenal was knocked out by French side Monaco (tie ended 3-3 on aggregate but Monaco advanced because they had scored three away goals compared to Arsenal’s two), the English side’s then-manager Arsene Wenger called the rule ‘outdated’.

“It should count, maybe, after extra time,” Wenger told reporters. “This rule was created in the 60s to encourage teams to attack away from home, but football has changed since the 1960s and the weight of the away goal is too big today.”

Aside from Wenger, Atletico Madrid manager, Diego Simeone, also mentioned some disadvantages for the team playing the second leg of a knockout tie at home, especially when the tie goes into extra time.

“UEFA needs to have a look at how difficult it is to play a second leg at home, with your opponent having 30 extra minutes in which one of their goals counts double, when as the home side you don’t have this advantage,” Simeone said in May 2018.

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Rule under review since 2018

Following widespread criticism, UEFA in September 2018 began discussions with coaches and the rule was under review since then.

The coaches they spoke to included: Massimiliano Allegri, Carlos Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Paulo Fonseca, Julen Lopetegui, Jose Mourinho, Thomas Tuchel and Arsene Wenger.

UEFA’s deputy secretary-general Giorgio Marchetti was quoted as saying: “The coaches think that scoring goals away is not as difficult as it was in the past. They think the rule should be reviewed and that’s what we will do.”

As the 2021/22 football season kicks off in August, millions of football fans, players, managers, and administrators will hope that the abolishment of the away goal rule will change the face of football and add more glamour to it.

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