The dust is now settling after two consecutive thrilling Champions League evenings involving Italian sides. After Roma sensationally came back from a 4-1 away deficit versus Barcelona on Tuesday, no-one could really have predicted that Juventus could’ve done the same at the Bernabeu versus reigning champions Real Madrid the following evening.
Yet the Bianconeri scored thanks to a header from Mario Mandzukic after just 73 seconds, stunning audiences worldwide as they mounted their own challenge against the impossible, Blaise Matuidi scoring the all-important third goal without reply on the hour mark. As the match headed for extra-time the Juventus backline could have been forgiven for failing to get back in order to support Medhi Benatia after such a colossal effort, but what happened next caused a shockwave that reverberated around the world of football.
The Moroccan international had no choice but to try and stop Lucas Vasquez from scoring the goal that would have sent Los Merengues into the semifinal as he found himself the last man after Cristiano Ronaldo headed the ball back across the face of the goal. Replays of the incident clearly show a push in the back on the attacker as well as a leg across his chest, and English referee Michael Oliver deemed there was enough contact to warrant awarding a last-minute spot kick.
Was it a penalty? You would really have to say yes, and there was enough evidence to support a decision in favour of Madrid that would make the incident impossible for the official to ignore. The reaction from Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was also certainly worthy of a red card and the goalkeeper had not calmed down one bit after the match.
“I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident,” said the Juve captain to gathered reporters in a shocking tirade against Oliver. “Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point. The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation.
“You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could’ve told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating. If you can’t handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your chips.”
As a captain, as such an important figure in world football, and as an example to those younger than him, the 40-year-old should not have conducted himself in this out-of-control manner.
But let’s just take a pause here to analyse the situation.
The Champions League is the only important trophy that Buffon has never lifted, and after World Cup heartbreak with Italy, after the death of his friend and international team-mate Davide Astori and – after thinking his dream of winning that prize was over in the first leg – Juventus had just staged an incredible fightback and were heading for extra time. You only had to look at the goalkeeper’s celebration after the third goal to see how much this mattered to him, and such desire is an emotional reaction that is hard to turn off.
As Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane knows all-too-well from his infamous headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final – versus Buffon’s Italy – a high-pressure game where everything is at risk can cause moments that a rational human being would find difficult to describe. As a football supporter it is easy to place yourself in Buffon’s shoes and imagine you would have the same reaction in that moment if it was the last chance in your career, and your team’s place in the next round of the competition was at stake.
Yes, Buffon was wrong. But on that night he was the manifestation of why football matters, and the game needs these emotional characters even if that means that the passion sometimes ends up boiling over. His actions will be discussed for weeks, months and maybe even years to come, but these talking points contribute to what makes the beautiful game so interesting for us all.
“I don’t understand why they’re complaining,” Ronaldo indicated after the match.“Lucas was tackled from behind and if they don’t give him the penalty, it’s a goal. It was easy for the forward to analyse the situation with a cool head, after all, his team had gone through. However as he walked through the line of reporters in the press mixed zone he stopped to give Buffon a hug, and it didn’t take a team of body language experts to reveal that the gesture gave silent understanding to how the goalkeeper had reacted.
In the cold light of day, Gianluigi Buffon might regret what he did, and – as a professional – so he should. Yet we all know there are two sides to every story, and those who love football should not be so quick to judge the actions of a man who has given everything he has to this sport over a 23-year career at the top.
Culled from the Sportsman.