By Alex Bossa
A look at the face of KCCA players at the end of their return leg match against Rwandese club AS Kigali can best describe how cruel the away goal rule can be on the losing team.
First introduced in 1965 by the now defunct European Cup Winners, cup, it was mainly created to avoid a third play off match or coin toss in case the two legs had ended in a draw. During this period, penalty shoot outs were yet to be introduced.
Another reason fronted was that back then, travelling to different destinations came at a cost and a number of players were heading into unknown territories to face opponents whom they had little or no knowledge of, and the playing fields were varying in size.
During those days it was so hard for a visiting team to dig out a result away from home which could call for tactical awareness.
Across the African continent, it has always been harder for the visitors to squeeze a win away from home. Most countries in Africa have a limit on foreigners; each team must register with the majority of the countries limiting it to 4 players. Before the announcement of the new changes starting next season, the Egyptian Premier League had gone ahead to not allow goalkeepers from different nationalities.
The restriction of foreign players coupled with poor treatment of travelling teams and unprofessionalism by the CAF referees have always played to the advantage of the host nation.
The challenge with the away goal rule is that travelling teams come with the aim of frustrating the host in a bid not to concede. In turn, this makes matches boring to watch since only one team is interested in the result.
This year saw the introduction of the two-legged playoff rounds in the Uganda Cup where the away goals rule was not spared with UPDF being the first beneficiaries this season against Arua Hill. With the match at 3-2 in favour of the West Nilers, UPDF only needed a sole goal which they got and decided to sit back.
On realizing such behaviors, UEFA this week decided to vote on scrapping off the rule where they feel it is outdated and no longer necessary. The idea behind this was that nowadays it is much easier to score an away goal than it was in the sixties given the fact that the exodus of players from one country to another is much easier and more games are televised which gives an advantage also to the visiting team.
Back home here in Uganda, home advantage seems to be on a decline with footballers’ loyalty to clubs being put to the question. Gone are the days where it would be taboo for a player like Hakim Magumba to cross from SC Villa to either Express or KCCA.
Recent trends show that players can freely move from Vipers to KCCA then back to Vipers and then to URA. Such player transfers from one club to another have brought a lot of familiarity among players from opposing teams.
Gone are the days when team tactics of the opposing team were based on results and maybe what the back pages of the newspapers would write on. With the introduction of beaming matches on Television, there is more visibility surrounding a match, refereeing and how opponents approach games.
Actually the away goals rule was more unkind to the team that hosted the return leg in case the match needed extra time since it would still count on the host if they conceded in extra time. Such circumstances led to the former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to call for it’s scrapping off in 2013. In 2018, UEFA made serious consideration but again they were reluctant to scrap it off.
Imagine where KCCA FC would be by now in the CAF confederations cup had this rule been scrapped off. KCCA felt unfairly treated by the CAF’s decision to award AS Kigali a 2-0 goal advantage which later came on to haunt them in the return leg where they won 3-1 but got knocked out on the away goals rule.
Scrapping off of the away goals rule on the continent may be a bit suicidal since most clubs in Africa still rely on cheap local talent that can go within the required budget. Also the atmosphere and hospitality accorded to visiting teams by the host teams is still poor and it is always intended in favour of the hosting team and that is where the home advantage comes in.
As for Europe, they have gone ahead to address such issues with the majority of the nations under the European Union which fronts free movement of labour within member countries.
Africa still has the problem of poor officiating which starts with the host team meeting the referee’s travel arrangements. This not only gives the host an upper hand on critical decisions but also biases the level of officiating with Mamelodi Sundowns being the latest victims in their away game against Al Ahly in the 2020/2021 CAF Champions League quarter final clash.
The scrapping of the away goals rule may be a positive signal to football lovers but Africa seems not to be ready to embrace it with home advantage still at play. Domestically, the Federation of Uganda Football can jump on the idea since most of the clubs do in-country transfers from one club to another.