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UEFA should throw the book at Chelsea

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We have all been involved in a situation where we get caught up in the moment and allow our emotions to get the best of us.

And when that takes place we must be prepared to accept whatever consequences arise and not use our emotions as an excuse.

However, the behavior of Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack at the end of Wednesday's Champions League semifinal with Barcelona was utterly disgraceful, and they should be punished accordingly.

Chelsea appeared to be on its way to the final in Rome for a rematch with Manchester United, but after three penalty appeals were turned down by Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo over the course of the match, Barca's Andres Iniesta fired a fantastic shot into the top corner in the 93rd minute to give the Spanish side the away goal it needed to advance.

There was still a bit of time left on the clock, and after a Frank Lampard corner kick fell to Ballack at the back post in the dying moments, he fired a shot toward goal that appeared to strike the arm of Barca's Samuel Eto'o.

Ovrebo's whistle remained silent and Ballack went ballistic as he chased the referee for 30 yards down the field, all the while screaming and gesturing just inches from Ovrebo's face in protest of the non-call.

It was an embarrassing display by a desperate player who should have been sent off for such a petulant act, but it may not be as bad as the actions of Drogba.

Didier Drogba's tantrum would have made even the most spoiled six-year-old blush.
The Ivorian had to be helped off the field in the 72nd minute, yet as soon as the final whistle blew, he came charging off the bench in an effort to confront Ovrebo and had to be restrained by security guards.

But Drogba didn't stop there.

As the referee made his way to the tunnel, still being stalked by the striker, Drogba turned directly to a television camera and yelled "It's a [expletive] disgrace."

No Didier, the only disgrace was your unbelievably ridiculous tantrum, which would have made even the most spoiled six-year-old blush.

Yet as bad as Drogba's on-field behavior was, maybe even more shocking was the fact that usually classy Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink condoned those actions.

"I can understand fully his reaction, full of emotion, full of adrenaline," the manager said after the match. "People say you should be in control. He was in control. The moment a player is full of emotion and starts hitting, he is going beyond where he should go. I fully understand his behavior and I will protect that."

So according to Hiddink, it is okay to let your emotions get the best of you and to berate an official as long as you don't hit him.

Got it.

Making the situation even more pathetic is the fact that police feared for Ovrebo's safety so much so that he had to change hotels before setting up a secret exit from England after receiving a number of death threats.

To be fair, Ovrebo may have been in a bit over his head, and for that UEFA needs to take some blame.

In such a big game with so much at stake it was a highly questionable decision to put a man in charge who referees Norwegian league matches on a regular basis, since they are not nearly as high profile as contests from some of Europe's bigger leagues.

It would have been a better choice to appoint a referee who is used to such a big occasion, and one that hasn't already made a critical mistake on a big stage.

Ovrebo drew the ire of the Italian Football Federation during Euro 2008 when Luca Toni's goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside in the team's match against Romania, which was officiated by Ovrebo.

This prompted the Italians to demand an apology from UEFA, but you didn't see members of the Azzurri charging the official like he had stolen their wallet.

Chelsea was understandably upset when Ovrebo missed a clear penalty in the 82nd minute on Barca's Gerard Pique, who clearly handled the ball inside his own area as Nicolas Anelka attempted to flick it past him.

However, the other three appeals that Chelsea had been claiming were borderline, and we must remember that it was Ovrebo who issued a straight red card to Barca's Eric Abidal in the 66th minute, a judgment that looked to be a bit harsh considering the amount of contact he made with Anelka.

Still, it was not enough to prevent comments like this from Chelsea's Jose Bosingwa after the game.

"I don't know if he's a referee or a thief," Bosingwa told Portuguese television station RTP. "I don't have any words to describe that man that was on the pitch.

"We have nothing against Barcelona's goal but the penalties that he didn't give us and his way of managing the game weren't right at all.

"This referee should never referee a game again. What happened was a disgrace. It was a well contested game but the referee came to spoil our game."

It would seem that the defender is insinuating that Ovrebo came into the game with bad intentions, which is a pretty serious accusation and one that Bosingwa retracted on Thursday.

Drogba also apologized for his actions the next day, but it will probably not soften the suspension that he should receive when UEFA makes a decision concerning the matter sometime next week.

"I was very upset at what happened during the game, but having seen the pictures on TV I accept that I overreacted," Drogba said in a statement on the club's official website.

"I also accept that the language I used did not set a good example for those watching at home, especially children.

"I regret that in the heat of the moment I let out my incredible frustration and disappointment in this way, and for that I apologize."

At the end of the day, Chelsea played well enough to deserve the victory, but they slipped up just once in defense and allowed themselves to be knocked out.

In reality, Iniesta never should have had the ball on his foot with a chance to break so many hearts in West London in the dying moments.

Drogba squandered a golden chance to put Chelsea up 2-0 early in the second half when he was left alone with goalkeeper Victor Valdes but smashed his shot into the keeper's legs.

Substitute Juliano Belletti could have put the game out of reach just one minute before Iniesta's fateful strike, but he could only muster a weak effort from the top of the box with only the keeper to beat.

Even Michael Essien, who scored a wonderful goal nine minutes into the game, has to shoulder a big part of the blame because it was his failed clearance that allowed Lionel Messi to set up the late goal.

There is plenty of blame to go around in the Chelsea dressing room, from the wastefulness of Drogba and Belletti in front of goal to Essien's failed clearance, but all of the venom that is coming from Stamford Bridge has been directed at Ovrebo.

It is now incumbent upon UEFA to protect its referee by dealing out suspensions to Ballack, Bosingwa and Drogba, which would take effect during next season's competition.

And here's to hoping that UEFA president Michel Platini isn't feeling very lenient.



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

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