With the quarterfinal round of UEFA Champions League already underway, we wanted to take a moment to explain the rules and usage of scoring away goals. Since AC Milan held Barcelona to zero away goals, some could argue they might have an easier time winning the aggregate match when they head to Camp Nou tomorrow. Catch that game on Fox Soccer at 11:45AM PDT.
While Milan was able to fend off Barcelona for now, the three other quarterfinals matches all were won by the away team, which brings us to our discussion of why away goals are so important for teams in two-legged fixtures. Much debate has taken course over whether playing away first puts a team at a disadvantage, because away teams would be more aggressive in the first leg, forcing home teams to play more conservatively, leaving a stronger defense in the backfield. Together, this makes for exciting second legs, where both teams stay within reach of an aggregate win.
Take for example, the first leg where AC Milan tied Barcelona. As the home team of that match, Milan did not give up any away goals. Thus, if they are able to tie Barcelona away, they automatically win because they have scored more away goals. So if Milan goes up 1-0 in the game against Barcelona, that puts added pressure on Barcelona to score two goals in order to advance on the aggregate score.
The controversy surrounding the rule and its application is not unwarranted. Many leagues apply the rule differently, and yet some weird cases have come about that are forced to respond to the rules in ways that make little sense. Add to this, the fact that many applications of the away goals rule extend to extra time, away teams get an additional 30 minutes to exploit the strength of their away goals.
Thus, lots of tournaments apply the rules differently. Still, several odd cases have prevailed where the rules don’t necessarily make sense given the circumstances. One such case was the 2003 UEFA Champions League semifinals. AC Milan faced Inter Milan, where both legs were played at San Siro, their shared stadium. The first leg tied at zeros, but tied at 1-1 in the second leg. Since AC Milan was technically the away team in the 2nd leg, they were declared the victor. I say technically because the home team was given more tickets reserved for their fans.
Another weird situation took place in the 1971/72 EURO Cup between the Scottish Rangers and Sporting of Portugal. After both teams tied on aggregate (5-5) and away goals (2-2) after through time of the 2nd leg, the game was forced into extra time. Both teams scored again in extra time, making the aggregate six to six. The referee called for a penalty shootout in which Sporting won 3-0. But Rangers appealed that since they scored an additional away goal in stoppage time, that should have given them the net victory on away goals (3-2). They won the appeal and advanced to the finals against Moscow Dynamo.
The only two major leagues that do not utilize the away goals rules after regulation are the MLS and the Primera Division of Mexico. In other major leagues, it is typically applied after regulation and sometimes again for goals in extra time, while other competitions play neutral extra time.
Remember that away goals DO NOT count as double towards the aggregate score, but in situations where it is applied, it’s merely a tie-breaker for even-aggregate scores.