Ribery's ban from CL final a black eye for soccer

Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Referee Roberto Rosetti raised his right arm, red card grasped between his fingers, and Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery looked up stunned.

Rosetti's decision was fair. Ribery committed a foul against Lyon's Lisandro Lopez that was certainly worthy of an ejection, and the star missed the last 53 minutes of the Champions League semifinal.

Ribery's punishment goes well past that April night in Munich, however, when Bayern still managed a 1-0 win. And that's why when he looked up at the red, it is hard to imagine his mind didn't flash ahead to what the true cost was.

The French midfielder was also suspended for the second match, a 3-0 victory at Lyon, and UEFA tacked two more games onto a mandatory one-game ban.

Now, arguably the best player on Bayern Munich or Inter Milan, the two teams that will clash for the Champions League title Saturday in Madrid, Spain, can't even play on the biggest club stage in the world.

Inter manager Jose Mourinho said Tuesday the Champions League final is "even bigger than the World Cup." Debate that as you will, but don't lose sight of the real issue here.

Ribery is certainly not a dirty player - outside of the red he committed two yellow-card offenses in all competitions combined this season - but one poor challenge cost him the chance to play a possibly once-in-a-lifetime match.

Mourinho said it was a "shame" Ribery was suspended, but the absence of some of the world's best players for a Champions League or even a World Cup championship has become the norm.

Franck Ribery will not be able to play on the biggest club stage in the world.
Ribery is not alone this year, as Inter starter Thiago Motto was sent off in the second leg of the semifinals against Barcelona. Because his red card was in the second leg, there was no doubt he would miss the final.

Thus, Bayern and Inter will both be without two hugely influential midfielders.

Just last year, Manchester United's Darren Fletcher missed the final after a red card following a good, ball-winning tackle on Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas in the semifinals.

In 2002, Germany's Michael Ballack led his team to the World Cup final, then missed the match against Brazil because of accumulated yellow cards.

Yes, accumulated yellow cards.

United appealed to UEFA to overturn the decision, but Fletcher still was not allowed to play. Bayern appealed to UEFA to limit Ribery's suspension to one game and, after that failed, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Obviously, that didn't work either. The CAS decided not to overturn the ban.

UEFA didn't just punish Ribery and Bayern.

It punished Inter. It punished the sport. It punished the fans - again.

Can you imagine LeBron James or Kobe Bryant missing Game 7 of the NBA finals because they fouled out in the previous game or accumulated a certain number of fouls in the playoffs?

How about Peyton Manning or Drew Brees being suspended for the Super Bowl?

It just doesn't make sense.

Sure, soccer has to protect its players, and there are certainly fouls that deserve a red card and ensuing suspension. But too many cards are currently issued, often in error.

Referees can't possibly see every inch of the pitch. And UEFA, FIFA and the rest of the world continues to use card systems that aren't a bad idea, but result in too harsh of a punishment on too many occasions.

Who knows what it will take to change the rules.

Perhaps a World Cup final between Argentina and Portugal without the last two FIFA World Players of the Year, Lio Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, would open some eyes.

Hopefully that's a scenario we'll only have to imagine.

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