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Know everything about the away goals rule in football

On June 24, 2021, UEFA took a historic decision to scrap the away goals rule in football starting from the 2021/22 season. As a result, the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, Europa Conference League as well as the women’s continental tournaments are being played without the away goals rule.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin further explained the decision: “The impact of the rule now runs counter to its original purpose as, in fact, it now dissuades home teams – especially in first legs – from attacking, because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.”

The away goal rule has had a titanic impact on important continental knockout matches, especially two-legged affairs, over the last few years. From Andres Iniesta’s iconic last-minute goal at the Stamford Bridge that sunk Chelsea hearts to Lucas Moura’s hattrick in the dying minutes against Ajax almost a decade later, the away goals rule has provided plenty of thrills as well as controversy in the Champions League. As debatable as it might be, the away goals rule has been responsible for plenty of historic and dramatic twists and results, some of which have now become mythical in football folklore, in Europe’s premier competitions.

But what is the away goals rule and why was it scrapped? We’ll discuss below:

What is the away goals rule?

FIFA has approved three events that can be decided to separate two teams in the case of a draw after two legs of football: penalties, extra-time, and away goals rule.

The away goals rule is only applicable on two-legged ties which are held both home and away. The away goals rule simply suggests that a goal scored away from home counts as extra if the scores are level after the stipulated time over the two legs of the tie.

Therefore, the team which has scored more of the away goals ends up progressing ahead in the contest even if the scoreline is level on aggregate after 180 minutes of action. Let’s discuss a few examples.

First Leg: Team A (home) 1-2 Team B (away)

Second Leg: Team B (home) 0-1 Team A (away)

Aggregate: Team A 2-2 Team B

Although the tie ends with both sides scoring the same number of goals, in this case, Team B progresses as they have scored two away goals compared to the one scored by Team A.

First Leg: Team A (home) 2-3 Team B (away)

Second Leg: Team B (home) 0-1 Team A (away)

Aggregate: Team A 3-3 Team B

Again, Team B might have lost the second leg at home and both sides finished after having scored the same number of goals, but Team B will go ahead as they have three away goals compared to Team A’s one.

First Leg: Team A (home) 1-0 Team B (away)

Second Leg: Team B (home) 2-1 Team A (away)

Aggregate: Team A 2-2 Team B

In this case, Team A will go ahead as they have an away goal to their name at the end of the tie while Team B have failed to score away from home.

First Leg: Team A (home) 1-0 Team B (away)

Second Leg: Team B (home) 1-0 Team A (away) [after 90 minutes]:

Second Leg: Team B (home) 2-1 Team A (away) [after extra time]

Extra time was required in this tie as neither side had scored away from home and therefore, there was no way to separate the two sides without going into extra time. However, the home team (Team B) ended up losing in extra time as Team A got the all-important away goal.

When and why was the away goals rule introduced?

Football is not a monolithic and static sport. The game continues to witness changes and modifications with time. UEFA decided to introduce the away goals rule for the first time in the 1965-66 season of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. It was then adapted to the European Cup in 1967, which later became the UEFA Champions League in 1992.

The role was brought into the equation for the first time in a match between Czech side Dukla Prague and Hungarian team Budapest Honved in the second round of the Cup Winners’ Cup in November 1965.

The tie finished with a 4-4 scoreline but Budapest Honved ended up progressing because they had scored three goals in Czechoslovakia while Dukla Prague had found the back of the net only twice in Budapest.

The away goals rule had been introduced to deal with several challenges that were prompted following a quarter-final tie between Liverpool and Cologne. After three draws and a postponement failed to separate the two sides, the winner was decided after a coin toss which Bill Shankly’s men won.

UEFA wanted to incentivize teams on the road to play attacking football instead of merely sitting back and defending in challenging and often hostile conditions. With the knowledge that the away goal would serve as a potential tie-breaker, the away side would be more willing to take chances, leading to a more open and enjoyable contest. Another reason behind the introduction of the rule was to avoid playoff tie-breaker matches in neutral venues which led to logistical and scheduling issues.

Why did UEFA decide to abolish the away goals rule?

UEFA came up with a statistical report that the away goals rule has led to a reduction in home wins as well as goals in the club competitions conducted by them over the last 40 years. The body said in a statement: “Statistics from the mid-1970s until now show a clear trend of continuous reduction in the gap between the number of home/away wins (from 61%/19% to 47%/30%) and the average number of goals per match scored at home/away (from 2.02/0.95 to 1.58/1.15) in men’s competitions.”

“In the UEFA Women’s Champions League, the average goals per game have remained very steady since 2009-10 with the overall average of 1.92 for home teams and 1.6 for away teams,” they added.

Several people felt that the rule led to cagey games in the first leg where neither side opted to take the risk and instead, bank on the possibility of a goal away from home. If the scoreline at the end of the first leg remained marginal, it would lead to an open second leg, with both teams standing a chance to win. This disparity often caused a chaotic viewer experience.

Many famous coaches have also been openly critical of the rule. Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who is currently serving as FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development, called the rule ‘outdated’ after his side were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Monaco in 2015.

“It should count, maybe, after extra time,” Wenger told reporters. “This rule was created in the 60s to encourage teams to attack away from home, but football has changed since the 1960s and the weight of the away goal is too big today.”

Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone also spoke on a similar note and pointed out the disadvantages of the away goals rule in modern football. “UEFA needs to have a look at how difficult it is to play a second leg at home, with your opponent having 30 extra minutes in which one of their goals counts double, when as the home side you don’t have this advantage,” Simeone said in May 2018.

The UEFA Executive Committee acted on these criticisms and investigated the matter. They started speaking to several coaches like Massimiliano Allegri, Carlos Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Paulo Fonseca, Julen Lopetegui, Jose Mourinho, Thomas Tuchel, and Arsene Wenger since September 2018.

UEFA’s deputy secretary-general Giorgio Marchetti was quoted as saying by Reuters: “The coaches think that scoring goals away is not as difficult as it was in the past. They think the rule should be reviewed and that’s what we will do.”

Eventually, the Executive Committee approved the proposal to scrap the away goals rule across all UEFA club competitions and the qualifying phases of its tournaments from the 2021-22 season onwards. This decision, based on the recommendation of the UEFA Club Competitions Committee and the UEFA Women’s Football Committee, will apply to football at the men, women, and youth levels.

Which competitions has it affected and how will winners be decided now?

Following UEFA’s rule change last summer, the Champions League, Europa League, Women’s Champions League, UEFA Youth League, UEFA Super Cup, and the newly-formed Europa Conference League will no longer use away goals as a series tie-breaker anymore.

Several other competitions have also gotten rid of this method in recent seasons. The Carabao Cup hasn’t utilized the away goals rule after the English Football League (EFL) removed it in 2018-19. The away goals rule came into play after extra-time in that tournament.

If the score is level over the two legs of a contest, the fixture will head to extra-time to determine the winner. If they still can’t be separated after two halves of 15 minutes each, then the match will go to a penalty shootout to determine the winner.

FAQs

When did UEFA scrap the away goals rule?

UEFA decided to remove the away goals rule on June 24, 2021.

Will the away goals rule count in the World Cup qualifiers?

Despite the away goals rule being abolished by the European football body UEFA for its club competitions, the rule is still being applied by FIFA for the two-legged World Cup qualifiers in any part of the world.

Is the away goals rule still applicable for UEFA Champions League in 2022?

No, the away goals rule will not be applicable in the UEFA Champions League in 2022.

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