The penultimate matches in the Champions League group stages are extremely exciting.
Clubs know that it’s now or never to get a good result in the attempt to reach the last-16 or achieve a third-place finish in order to qualify for the Europa League. However, things also get a bit controversial.
With some clubs already setting their sights on the last-16, they decide to play the system a little bit.
For example, if one of their star players is on a yellow card, another booking in their penultimate match would see them suspended for the final group match – which could well be a dead-rubber. It means their slate is then wiped clean ahead of the knockout rounds.
It’s clever but it’s very sneaky.
On Tuesday, we saw Kevin de Bruyne get himself booked before being substituted just minutes later. Hmmmm.
And UEFA are even investigating Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal for his booking for time-wasting during Real Madrid’s 6-0 win against APOEL. In injury-time, the right-back held onto the ball for far too long when taking a throw, earning himself a booking that will see him suspended for Madrid’s final group match.
But this has been happening for years.
And the most obvious case of this happened back in 2010.
Jose Mourinho was in charge of Real Madrid as they played Ajax in their penultimate group match. Having taken a 4-0 lead, Madrid were cruising.
However, during the match, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso had picked up yellow cards. They would likely be rested for their dead-rubber against Auxerre in the final group match meaning they would carry their bookings into the knockout rounds.
Not if they picked up a second yellow, though, meaning they would be suspended for the game against Auxerre and having their slate wiped clean for the last-16.
And Mourinho could be seen telling Alonso, while he ordered Jerzy Dudek to run around the pitch to tell Iker Casillas to pass the message onto Ramos.
What happened next was outrageous.
Both Alonso and Ramos picked up second bookings for wasting time in injury-time when they were already 4-0 up. In fact, Ramos even took a goal-kick in order to have the opportunity to waste some time and shook the ref’s hand on his way off the pitch!
Unsurprisingly, UEFA found them guilty of breaching competition rules.
“Players Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were fined €20,000, Iker Casillas was fined €10,000 and Jerzy Dudek was fined €5,000 euros,” Uefa said.
“The red cards given to Alonso and Ramos stand, and they have therefore been suspended for one Uefa club competition match. The control and disciplinary body has decided to fine Real Madrid CF €120,000. An appeal may be lodged against the ruling within three days of the dispatch of the reasoning for the decision.”
So, at the end of the day, Mourinho got his wish with Alonso and Ramos suspended for the final group match and having a clean record heading into the knockout stages.
He even managed to get himself a night off for the match as well!