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UEFA own goal?

The way Chelsea went out of this year’s Champions League tournament sparked debate. Jimothy Shondells wonders if UEFA have got the rules wrong.

Chelsea created a little piece of history as they went out of this season’s Champions League by being the first ever defending champions to go out at the group stage. They exited the tournament after earning 10 points from a potential 18, the same number as Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk who finished in the second qualifying berth above the Blues. The London side were the top goalscorers across all eight groups of four teams and had a better goal difference than Donetsk.

But the Ukrainians went through by virtue of having a better head-to-head record over the two games played between the clubs – they won 2-1 at home and lost 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. And so, by UEFA’s rules, Donetsk went through because they scored one more away goal than Chelsea did.

It was not always thus. If two teams in a league competition finished level on points, their ranking would be determined by whoever had the bigger positive goal difference. That’s still the case in most leagues worldwide but this standard is only applied by UEFA after the head to head record.

Chelsea had a goal difference of +6 and Donetsk finished with +4, but progressed due to that second goal they scored in London.

Dithering Donetsk?

Chelsea needed Shakhtar to beat eventual group winners Juventus in their last game to stand any chance of qualification, so long as they also won against bottom-placed Norwegian side Nordssjaelland, which they did comfortably 6-1.

Donetsk, on the other hand, knew that they had qualified even if they lost to the Italians. And so they did, losing 1-0 and by many accounts without exactly breaking a sweat to try and win the tie. Why did they have to? They had already qualified after all and the players wouldn’t want to risk getting injured during this ‘dead rubber’ of a game either.

Chelsea shouldn’t have put themselves in the position where they had to rely on other results and would probably look to their two results against Juventus (a 2-2 and a 3-0 defeat) as what ultimately cost them their place in the knockout stages.

But where was the Donetsk team that dominated the 2-1 win over Chelsea and only left Stamford Bridge pointless thanks to a 93rd minute winner? Where was the Donetsk which put five away goals past Nordssjaelland? Where was the Donetsk which earned a valiant draw away at Juventus?

If they went into the Juventus game knowing that if Chelsea won their last game by, say, four clear goals to nudge ahead in the race for qualification, you’d bet your bottom dollar Donetsk would’ve of been firing on all cylinders to ensure they didn’t miss out.

In this case, they played a whole 90 minutes of a Champions League game with an air of indifference and that is where the rule falls down. Going back to a deciding teams’ standings based on goal difference would definitely ensure the excitement this head-to-head away goals rule is believed to be provide, while rewarding those teams that score the most goals during the competition.