It was a decision referee Michael Oliver had to make.
Despite the protests and bickering in the final minutes of Wednesday’s heated Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Englishman had no choice but to award a penalty.
Deep into second-half stoppage time, Medhi Benatia knocked Lucas Vazquez down as he tried to win a crucial ball. The Real Madrid substitute had a clear look at goal before the Juventus defender’s intervention. Already on a yellow card, Benatia could and probably should have been sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Although the decision was heavily debated, there was more than enough evidence to call a foul. The Moroccan international wrapped his leg around Vazquez in an attempt to clear, an infraction that would have been called anywhere else on the pitch. Benatia had done himself no favours by lunging into a tackle minutes earlier to catch the attention of Oliver, and the fact he challenged Vazquez from behind only amplified the risk.
The Bianconeri, however, could have avoided the sequence altogether.
It all started when Benatia drifted out to the right, having to cover for the casual Stephan Lichtsteiner as Isco infiltrated space down the wing. Benatia then found himself out of position, and with the play switching sides, was unable to track back in time to make a legitimate clearance.
(Courtesy: BT Sport)
Juventus’ attempt at an offside trap also left Vazquez all alone. Unbeknownst to his teammates holding a high line, Alex Sandro stayed behind, playing Cristiano Ronaldo onside and allowing the Portuguese superstar to nod a free ball into the box.
(Courtesy: BT Sport)
Juventus had done so well to bring itself back into the tie. It was an inverted image of the first leg, with Juventus making the most of its limited opportunities this time around. Scoring three goals is no easy feat in such hostile territory, and yet all the hard work was undone in the closing stages as the Bianconeri let the result slip away with slack defending. They had played without the ball for the majority of the contest and conceded some genuine scoring chances to Madrid, including a header that crashed off the crossbar. Gianluigi Buffon made some good saves, but the visitor’s resistance simply couldn’t handle the additional three minutes of stoppage time.
Related – Buffon: Referee ‘has a trashcan in place of a heart’
The subsequent fallout was a sad sight. Buffon couldn’t help himself. A World Cup winner and multiple Italian champion, the 40-year-old was sent off – his first red card in 117 appearances in the competition. The moment was so tense that a visceral reaction was inevitable.
“It’s unbelievable that our captain isn’t allowed to speak to the referee,” Benatia said afterward. “The red card was very harsh.”
Not that Buffon – or anyone else – would have saved the following kick. Ronaldo was forced to stew for several minutes, and yet still converted coolly into the top corner.
It was an unfortunate way to end a riveting match, but Oliver should be commended for not allowing the context of the tie, then 3-3 on aggregate after the remarkable comeback, to influence his decision.
Buffon’s dismissal can be debated – no one knows exactly what he said and whether he touched the official – but the penalty was just.