One would think there would be much to celebrate for FC Goa as they put in a five-star display to thrash Jamshedpur FC by 5-1 in the quarter-finals of the Super Cup on Thursday.
However, the celebrations were very muted as the Gaurs’ scintillating display to take apart Steve Coppell’s men was overshadowed by a refereeing controversy at the stroke of half-time.
Both sides finished the match with eight men each as an almighty scuffle broke out between the two sets of players in the tunnel during the half-time interval.
Even as the footballing world’s opinion was divided completely with Gianluigi Buffon’s sending off by Michael Oliver in the second-leg of Juventus’ Champions League quarter-finals against Real Madrid following his outburst at the award of a penalty, match officials in the Super Cup are now showing the other side to dealing with players' protests.
Controversy erupted in the first minute of added time towards the end of the first-half with Goa leading by 1-0. Brandon Fernandes’ square-ball found star-striker Corominas unmarked in the box with the goal at his mercy but the Spaniard made a complete hash of the chance as he could only get a faint toe-poke to the ball.
A scrambling Jamshedpur custodian Subrata Paul thought he had done just enough to prevent the ball from rolling into the net as he put it out of the field of play, but, to his shock, Brandon continued to play on and smashed the ball emphatically into the goal.
Despite Jamshedpur’s and Paul’s fierce protests arguing that the ball had gone out of play, the referee chose to award the goal to Goa. Bafflingly though, the match official seemed to have a change of heart almost two minutes after the award of the goal as the players continued to mob him.
After intense discussions with the linesman, the referee reversed his decision to award the goal to Goa. What was more shocking though was the official’s hand signal of having arrived at the conclusion through video replays.
While the debate on implementing Video Assistant Referees (VAR) remains a burning one all throughout Europe, it seems to have magically appeared to the aid of referees in the inaugural Super Cup.
For the second match in succession, the match officials arrived to the correct decision, albeit through dubious means. In Mohun Bagan’s 3-1 win over Shillong Lajong on Wednesday, there had been a similar controversy with the Kolkata outfit’s second goal.
Nikhil Kadam’s piledriver of a shot from outside the box had struck the crossbar before bouncing over the line and back into the hands of a grateful Lajong custodian Lachenpa Phurba who continued to play on. With no whistle forthcoming from the referee, the game continued for some time before the match official decided to have a belated conversation with his linesman.
Once again, the decision was reversed, much to the outrage of the Lajong players who could not believe their eyes. In both instances, it seemed that the referees had been communicated the right decision through their ear-pieces from outside the pitch.
While the legitimacy of this methodology itself is highly questionable and dubious, it wasn’t the only sour point from FC Goa’s win over Jamshedpur.
The fact that match officials seemed to give in to the players’ protest long after the initial decision had been made was itself a huge black mark on the game.
Jamshedpur tactician Coppell emphasized this point in his post-match press conference even as he described the affair as a complete ‘farce’.
Talking about Paul’s vehement protests against the decision, Coppell said, “If he hadn’t protested for so long, the second goal wouldn’t have been blocked. In a way, it is an example to set for the future if you complain constantly the referee might change his mind! He is justified in complaining if the referee changes his mind.”
It was a sarcastic dig at best towards the match officials but one which very much rang true. While Oliver had no qualms about sending off a legend like Buffon for his passionate but overboard protests in what will ultimately be his last Champions League game, the referees in the Super Cup have shown that they can be easily influenced by players who get in their faces.
For a competition which has already been derided by many even before it began, the Super Cup’s image has taken a further beating with the latest drama. Such has been the bitter taste left in the mouths of both teams after Thursday that Goa’s mesmeric football on display has become very much an afterthought.
There were times during the match that the Gaurs simply cut through Jamshedpur's defence like butter with some scintillating interchanges. Against a Jamshedpur side much famed for their organization in the recently concluded Indian Super League (ISL), Goa’s brilliant interplay should have been the real winner of the evening.
However, all of that will be quickly forgotten as refereeing takes centre-stage once again in Indian football. Neither of the two sides nor the match officials came out with any credit after the melee that descended from that catastrophic decision but, ultimately, it is Indian football which is the loser after Thursday’s ‘Super Farce’.