Bizarre decisions in crucial San Siro clash highlight pressure on officials

Nothing gets the football fraternity’s blood boiling more than bad refereeing. So if Paolo Tagliavento’s performance during the top-of-the-table clash between AC Milan and Juventus is anything to go by, those watching would have been in need of a quiet lie-down in a darkened room.

It was certainly all too much for Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani, who reportedly had to leave the stadium at half-time such was his distress at witnessing his side have a perfectly good goal disallowed – that and the fact he apparently confronted the official in the referee’s dressing room before having an ungentlemanly set-to with Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Conte would later go ten rounds of verbal sparring with former former Milan midfielder-turned TV pundit Zvonimir Boban over whether a second-half equalizer from Alessandro Matri - which was also ruled out - merited greater complaint.

The off-field discord was a by-product of a highly dramatic match, living up to the best traditions of Serie A’s ability to court controversy at just about every turn.

The home side were already leading one-nil and basically outplaying a timid Juventus, when just before the half-hour mark Sulley Muntari headed the ball across the line from close range, only for Gianluigi Buffon to scoop it back from at least a yard over the goal line.

The Rossoneri players peeled away in mass celebrations as the majority of the opposition bowed their heads in resignation, only for the referee to wave play on. The official was aided and abetted by his assistant, who decided it hadn’t crossed the line, or perhaps suffered a complete mental blackout and couldn’t engage in any decision making process.

Passengers on passing jets who happened to be peering out the cabin window at that very moment would have vouched that the ball had crossed the line, but the men who mattered didn’t, leaving the hundreds of thousands watching from the stands or their sofas gawping in disbelief.

The fact Buffon didn’t miss a heartbeat and threw the ball to the free Marcelo Estigarriba, who raced away and nearly scored at the other end, only added a surreal coda to one of the most bizarre incidents seen on a football pitch in recent memory.

Juve had been droning on about ‘events’ going against them for the last few weeks and another talking point ensured that they could continue to do so: Matri had what replays clearly showed was a good goal ruled out for offside when he was level with the defence, but the striker and his employers still had the last laugh when he fired home the equalizer with seven minutes remaining.

Naturally, both camps had their own spin on the two disallowed goals. Milan believed that at two-nil they would have been out of sight, while Gigi Buffon countered that the match should have finished 2-2, but stated he would have never owned up to the ball having crossed the line. In which case, if Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was to follow his ‘sporting ethics code’ to the letter, the veteran would have to be dropped from the Italy squad for this week’s friendly against USA.

That will not come to pass, but once again there have been renewed calls for the introduction of goal-line technology in the wake of what La Gazzetta dello Sport called: ‘The Ghost Goal’.

However, the real problem rests with the referees and the crushing pressure they are under from the clubs, the media and of course their own federation, which has unfortunately led to officials wilting on quite a few occasions this season.

The general unruliness of Saturday evening spilled over into the Sunday fixtures, which were overseen from the fussy to the downright dictatorial. AS Roma finished their match at Atalanta with nine men, while Palermo full-back Federico Balzaretti was sent off within the first minute at Siena.

There could be further fall-out from Saturday evening: TV replays caught Philippe Mexes throwing a kidney punch at Marco Borriello, while Muntari took his frustrations out on Stephan Lichtsteiner’s jaw line.

Massimo Ambrosini had to be dragged away from confronting Georgio Chiellini as the players headed to the tunnel at the final whistle when cool heads were in short supply.

As long as this ill-tempered state of affairs persists then referees will continue to commit errors that will come back to haunt not only them but also those on the receiving end of the decisions – just ask the spooked Galliani.