After a frantic first 10 minutes in Turin, Spurs found themselves 2-0 down to Juventus, a team that had conceded just one goal in their last 15 matches. An outstanding example of high intensity pressing football by Pochettino’s men means they now head into the second leg level at 2-2 with the Old Lady. However, the away goals rule means they are in fact by no means on even terms. Spurs, in fact, have a big advantage before they play at Wembley.
After 180 minutes or 210 minutes (with extra-time in the 2nd leg) of football, if the two teams are level, any away goal counts as double. For example in the Round of 16 last season, Man City beat Monaco 5-3 at home and lost 3-1 away, leading to an aggregate score of 6-6. Because Monaco scored 3 goals at the Etihad stadium and Man City only scored 1 at the Stade Louis, Monaco went through on the away goals rule.
The away goals rule was first introduced in 1965 as an expedited way to resolve a two-legged fixture in which teams were closely matched, long before the implementation of penalty shootouts. Now, the away goals rule is intended to encourage away teams to be more attacking. However, in many cases, the away goals rule leads to a nervous first leg, in which the home team is wary of committing players forward, lest they concede an away goal, whilst the away team soaks up pressure and hopes to score on the break. It is also widely thought that there is an unfair advantage to the team playing away first. With so much time left in the tie, the home team can often squander their ‘home advantage’ in the first game for fear of conceding that all important away goal.
The away goals rule can often ruin ties between teams much earlier than would be the case without it. If for example, a team wins 1-0 at home and then scores an away goal early in the second leg through a stroke of good fortune or a poor refereeing decision, the opposing team will then have to score 3 goals to progress against a team that can now sit back and defend for the remainder of the tie.
UEFA continue to back the idea of away goals, still citing that it encourages away teams to be more attacking. My argument is that there is no reason for a team to be more attacking or defensive whether away or at home. The rule was far more relevant when being at home held a significant advantage. Champions League pitches across Europe are now homogenised. Gone are the days where players might gain an advantage by playing on their home ground through being used to the length of the grass, the soil morphology or the moisture of the surface. Such are the luxuries afforded to modern day players these days, a night away from home that could have previously been seen as a disadvantage will now be spent in a 5-star hotel and any journey in a first-class cabin.
The home crowd in certain stadiums across Europe can be intimidating. Teams and fans visiting Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion or the Stadio San Paolo in Naples will have experienced this first hand. But there are two legs. If your home fans produce an atmosphere that is better compared to your opposition that is an advantage, but not an advantage that should be punished by the possibility of conceding an away goal that could put your progress through the competition in jeopardy. Such is the improvement in the analysis and scrutiny of refereeing in the last 20 years, as well as the average salary improving to on average £70,000 per year, the idea of referees being browbeaten by these home fans is also a thing of the past.
Whilst the away goals rule made sense maybe 30 years ago, with the modernisation of football stretching to video referees and multi-city international competitions there are more simple fixes to improve the beautiful game. It is time to do away with an unnecessary rule that often makes European ties more cagey and less exciting.