When all goals aren’t equal in football

At the heart of football’s appeal is its simplicity: the team

with the most goals wins.

Except that is when it comes to two-legged cup matches, when the

away-goals rule kicks in.

Bayern Munich is the latest beneficiary of the rule that makes

away goals count double, with Arsenal having nothing to show for

ending the German team’s 23-game unbeaten run when they met in the

Champions League on Wednesday.

A 3-1 deficit from the first leg in London was overturned by

Arsenal unexpectedly winning 2-0 in Munich, but the 3-3 aggregate

score didn’t push the game into extra time as Bayern advanced to

the quarterfinals. Had the second leg ended 3-1 the teams would

have been forced to play extra time and potentially contest a

penalty shootout.

Even Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge acknowledged: ”We

were lucky to have scored enough goals in London.”

Two years ago, Bayern fell victim to the away-goals rule at the

last-16 stage in the Champions League. Despite winning 1-0 at Inter

Milan, the Italian side advanced by winning 3-2 in Munich.

Braga reached its first-ever European final in 2011 by winning

2-1 at Benfica and then clinging on for a 1-0 win at home to

advance to the Europa League final with a 2-2 draw.

Tunisia had its place at the African Cup of Nations in January

to thank for the away-goals rule. A 2-2 victory at Sierra Leone

ensured Tunisia qualified for the finals with a 0-0 draw at home,

playing into the hands of those who say the rule encourages

ultra-defensive tactics.

Such complaints have been made by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

– long before his team’s title hopes ended for an eighth successive

season by exiting the Champions League.

”We proposed to UEFA at some stage that the away goal should

only kick in like it does in the (League) Cup – in extra time,”

Wenger said in 2009.

Wenger, though, failed to influence any powerbrokers during his

trips to UEFA headquarters in Nyon.

For all the talk of the perceived injustice of penalty

shootouts, the away-goals rule now seems to be an established part

of the game that is rarely challenged.

But it hasn’t always been that way, though.

Before the 1965-66 season, teams deadlocked after the home and

away matches either played a third match at a neutral venue, or

lots were drawn.

From the 1969-70 season, the away-goals rule was rolled out by

European football’s governing body for all of its competitions.

And that’s how it will remain for Champions League, Europa

League and European Championship playoff matches.

”The main reason for introducing the away-goal rule was to

encourage teams playing away to try to score and not to defend a

0-0 draw, thus to develop a more attractive football,” UEFA said

Thursday in a statement.

Wenger recalls a time before the away-goal when ”teams went

away from home, with no television, played with 10 defenders and

kicked every ball into the stand.”

”I believe that the tactical weight of the away goal has become

too important,” Wenger said in 2009. ”Teams get a 0-0 draw at

home and they’re happy. Instead of having a positive effect it has

been pushed too far tactically in the modern game.

”It has the opposite effect than it was supposed to have at the

start – it favors defending well when you play at home.”

Yet the rule harks back to the days when securing a victory on

the road in hostile environments was an achievement worth

rewarding. Now, though, most major teams play slick modern

all-seater stadiums, and foreign trips are less uncommon with the

growth of the Champions League and Europa League.

Even though the format of the competitions have changed over the

years, the away-goals rule appears set to endure.

Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris