Though Real Madrid would later grab a late winner courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo, when Gareth Bale was penalized for a foul on Jordi Alba after nodding home a leading goal, Madrid fans were livid. They weren’t the only ones, either. Gareth Bale would later state:
“I can’t believe it was disallowed… It was a very bad decision in my eyes.”
Was it that bad?
Here is the goal in question at full speed. At first glance, it’s a clear goal. Gareth Bale goes up, makes little contact, and beats Alba aerially. Okay, clearly he was robbed.
Okay, now in slow motion. We can see Gareth Bale leading in on Jordi Alba with his elbows on Alba’s shoulders. As he leans in to head the ball, he pushes down on Alba, knocking him over. That level of force, in Barcelona’s home ground, for the goal that would be arch-rivals, Real Madrid, ahead in one of the biggest games of the season? We can begin to see why the goal wasn’t given.
But then we see the replay from behind the goal. As Gareth Bale leans in to head the ball, he barely pushes down. He meets the ball cleanly as he heads the ball into the back of the net. Alba, while slightly leaned on by Bale, falls fairly easily, too easily for a defender. It’s 100% a goal.
But, that was clear from the first replay. Why are we looking further into it? Think about it this way. Look at the paragraph where we thought it was possible that Bale did foul Alba. This shows there was a doubt in the goal, and in the cauldron that is Camp Nou, that doubt is magnified. The referee doesn’t have the benefit of multiple replays, and in a situation that could change a game, and potentially a season, he has to act with his gut. Remember, the side referee was the one who flagged for the foul. His view of the play was the one where we thought it could have potentially been a foul.
Was it a goal? Yes, definitely. Was it the wrong call? Yes, again, definitely. Was it a bad call? Not necessarily. It is easy for us to look at this play in hindsight and the benefit of replays and the emotion of the moment completely taken out of it. The sideline referee didn’t have those benefits. Gareth Bale was robbed of a goal, but we shouldn’t be castigating the referee for this. Instead, maybe it’s time to look at ways to improve the situation. No one will ever be perfect, but we need to start trying to make refereeing as foolproof as possible.