‘If there is a savage and sadistic way to be eliminated, then this is it’
Italian media react to Juventus’ Champions League exit last night against Real Madrid
Gianluigi Buffon argues with the referee after a late penalty is awarded. Photograph: Getty Images
“Not like this.” Those words recurred over and over throughout the Italian media’s coverage of Juventus’s Champions League elimination, with Tuttosport turning them into a front-page headline. There are occasions when the Turin-based newspaper’s journalists seem to witness games very differently to those elsewhere on the peninsula. This was not one of those times.
“If there is a savage and sadistic way to be eliminated, then this is it,” wrote Fabrizio Bocca in La Repubblica. “Better, much better, to go to the Bernabéu, lose the match and amen. See you again next year. Like this, no, like this everything stays open and everything feels unfinished, like a door slammed in your face.”
And who had closed that door, exactly? Not Madrid, not Cristiano Ronaldo, even if his penalty was beautifully struck. There was little more than a grain of criticism to be found for Mehdi Benatia, whose injury-time challenge on Lucas Vázquez led to the spot-kick.
Instead, the focus fell squarely on the referee who had awarded it. “If Mr Michael Oliver, United Kingdom, 33 years old from Ashington, wanted to put his name down in history then he succeeded,” wrote Tuttosport’s Guido Vaciago. “Real Madrid will not easily forget him, honoured as they were with a penalty that perhaps was not counterfeit, but certainly generous.
Analysis of individual refereeing decisions are a regular feature of Italy’s sports pages. There were subtly different takes from the various “moviola” (replay) columnists, with some defining the penalty as soft and others as an outright travesty. Even those who could see why the incident was punishable under the letter of the law still argued that Oliver should have read the situation better.
“To concede a debatable penalty that decides access to the semi-final of the Champions League, on a refereeing level, qualifies a mistake,” opined Francesco Ceniti in Gazzetta dello Sport. “We need to start with this premise before analysing the incident which rightly infuriated Juve. Because every referee knows well that there are moments in which your whistle has a different weight and so you only punish (or should punish) obvious fouls.
“Was Benatia’s challenge on Vázquez one of those? No, because the defenders’ intervention was risky, but at the same time open to interpretation. The Spaniard tried to control with his chest from Ronaldo’s knock-down, Benatia arrived from behind and tried everything with his left foot to take the ball off him.
“Sure, there was a tiny push with his hands, and then a contact on his underarm. So doubts over the challenge are legitimate, but so is the argument that says this challenge was not worth punishing.”
One or two journalists did try to bring readers’ attention back to the football. “Leave the regrets for tomorrow, or maybe never,” wrote Vaciago. “Yes, the first leg, the distractions, the missed chances: tomorrow, or maybe never. Don’t ruin the sensation of having witnessed one of the most beautiful football stories of our lifetime, don’t contaminate that unequivocal certainty that Juventus are one of the strongest teams in the world, on a level with Real Madrid, superior to many other more celebrated sides.”
For most, though, the fury was too much to bear. “Juve won on the pitch, and Andrea Angelli won big off it,” wrote Corriere dello Sport’s Alessandro Vocalelli, noting the Juventus president’s criticisms not only of Oliver but of the man who assigns the officials for Champions League matches – Pierluigi Collina.
“After Roma’s feat, in which they were stronger than refereeing mistakes against them in both legs, with a missed red card for Pique and penalties not given at the Camp Nou, the Bianconeri could not do the same – only because this time the referees beat them. After [OFFICIALS]denied Juan Cuadrado a clear penalty in the game in Turin, this time the Englishman Oliver brought the house down, punishing a challenge from Benatia that – having watched the replay over and over – clearly took the ball.”
His newpaper’s front-page headline put it more concisely. “What a robbery,” it read.