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International Soccer
Memo to UEFA: Ovrebro must go

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It wasn't quite as high-profile a match - a Round of 16 contest as opposed to a semifinal - but for the second consecutive year, Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebro has managed to make a mess of a Champions League match.

You remember Ovrebro, don't you?

He is the big bald guy whose name is certain to elicit a profanity-laced tirade if uttered anywhere near west London after his performance in the second leg of Chelsea's Champions League semifinal match with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.

Ovrebro famously turned down a number of penalty appeals from the Blues, only for Barca to score a last-gasp goal to knock Chelsea out of the competition.

He was essentially chased out of the English capital by a torch-wielding mob following the game, and after Wednesday's 2-1 win by Bayern Munich over Fiorentina, in which a number of dubious calls went against the Italian side, he should probably take Florence off his list of possible vacation destinations this summer.

The play that will come under the most scrutiny is the goal that Bayern's Miroslav Klose scored in the 89th minute that won the match for his team, despite the fact that he was easily three or four yards offside.

However, Ovrebro didn't exactly do a great job over the first 88 minutes of the match either.

Bayern's Mark van Bommel, who is not likely to win an award for fair play any time soon, was up to his usual tricks in the first half as he was guilty of committing a clumsy challenge on Stevan Jovetic in the 20th minute, and then just seven minutes later, came in with a terrible two-footed tackle on Riccardo Montolivo, forcing Montolivo to leave the game in the second half.

The play on Montolivo rightly earned him a yellow card, but you can make the case that he could have been sent off in the 39th minute when he flopped like a fish out of water just five yards from where Ovrebro was standing.

It would have been one thing to call a foul on the Fiorentina player, because he wouldn't be the first official to be fooled by the theatrics of a player, but if he didn't feel that a foul occurred, why was Van Bommel not booked for diving?

Instead, Ovrebro just stood there like an innocent bystander and allowed play to go on.

The end of the opening half also brought about a questionable decision as Bayern's Franck Ribery was knocked over inside the penalty area by Per Kroldrup.

The referee rightly called a foul on the play and awarded Bayern a penalty kick, but just a split second after Ribery was fouled, Mario Gomez followed up the play and scored.

Instead of playing the advantage and awarding Bayern the goal, Ovrebro took it away and gave the German side a penalty kick. Fortunately for the referee, Arjen Robben successfully converted the attempt, which spared Ovrebro further controversy, but it is those types of calls that should be handled properly on this kind of stage.

Fiorentina was able to equalize five minutes into the second half, and it looked to be anyone's game with the final 40 minutes still to play.

Instead, Ovrebro completely shifted the balance in the 73rd minute when he hit Fiorentina's Massimo Gobbi with a straight red card after he obstructed Robben near the sideline.

Gobbi certainly fouled Robben, who predictably made the most of the contact, but it was the type of foul that usually warrants a yellow card at most, and it was not as dangerous as the studs-up tackle by Klose on Felipe just five minutes later, when the German striker received only a yellow card.

The red card forced Fiorentina to sit back and defend over the final 20 minutes of the game, and they just about made it until the dubious goal that Klose scored just minutes from the final whistle.

Ovrebro can't take full credit for this one because his linesman on the far side was standing there watching the play unfold, and somehow did nothing.

To the best of my knowledge it has not been medically proven that incompetence is contagious, but if anyone in the medical community is looking for exhibit A, they need look no further than Ovrebro.

This is not even the first time that Ovrebro has short-changed an Italian team, as his terrible offsides call against Luca Toni robbed Italy of a goal against Romania in the Euro 2008 competition.

Florence mayor Matteo Renzi saved most of his venom for the linesman and UEFA president Michel Platini, who must bear a large portion of the criticism for even putting Ovrebro out there in the first place.

"I have never seen anything like it in the history of professional football," the mayor told FirenzeViola.it. "It was a complete embarrassment.

"Platini should be worried about sending linesmen out in good faith instead of remaining in the stands and smiling.

"Tonight, UEFA has embarrassed the city of Florence."

In fact, it is UEFA that should be ashamed as they have continued to hand important assignments to an official who is clearly incapable of handling them.

The mistake in the Euros was one blown call, albeit an important one that cost a team points in a major tournament, but most referees will have that kind of moment at least once in their career if they do it long enough.

UEFA could be forgiven for handing Ovrebro more assignments after that, but they certainly opened themselves up to criticism for putting him in charge of a Champions League semifinal when exceedingly more qualified referees were available.

After the debacle at Chelsea, UEFA should have taken Ovrebro off its list of potential match officials for Champions League play, but instead they put him back into the line of fire, and he failed miserably.

Now, for the second consecutive year in a Champions League match, the officiating has overshadowed the play on the field, and that can't be something that UEFA wants.

"We played the game we wanted to play, but it's really sad to see certain things happening at this stage of the Champions League," Montolivo told Rai Sport following the match.

"Even I saw the offside from the bench and it's really frustrating that we were robbed like this.

"We are still on course to qualify, but we could have been in a better position if it wasn't for the officials."

The positive for Ovrebro and UEFA is the fact that this terrible display took place in the first leg of the Round of 16 clash, and not the second, leaving Fiorentina a chance to save everyone involved from further humiliation.

The Viola may use the injustice of the first leg as motivation to help them get the result they need at home, but if Fiorentina does get through, it should not gloss over UEFA's terrible decision to appoint Ovrebro, or the referee's ineptitude.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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