“The Chelsea vs Barca refereeing was a disgrace”
Didier Drogba and a former referee went over the various incidents in the game
A long time has passed, but there are matches that are never forgotten, especially because of their importance and even more so if controversy was rife.
One of them is the famous second leg of the 2008-2009 Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona, remembered for the last-minute goal by Andres Iniesta that propelled Barca into the final, but above all for the erratic performance of Norwegian international referee Tom Henning Øvrebø.
Øvrebø could have given at least three penalties to Guus Hiddink's blues, but he did not. Despite the time that has elapsed, Didier Drogba and former French international referee Tony Chapron spoke about the matter again on Canal+'s "24 minutes" program.
According to Chapron, Øvrebø lost his head on that fateful evening of May 6 when he mistakenly gave Chelsea a free kick instead of a penalty when Daniel Alves fouled Florent Malouda in the Barcelona box in the first half: "It's the key moment of the game," said Chapron.
"Because he knew he had made a mistake. He pointed out the foul but didn't want it to be a penalty. But the law is clear. Any foul in the box means it's a penalty. You either penalize the foul or you don't. By giving a free kick, he knew he had messed it up."
Two minutes later, Drogba was brought down in the same box by Eric Abidal, but Øvrebø was not impressed. "He could have saved his performance and we would have forgotten his earlier mistake."
Chelsea legend Didier Drogba revealed to Chapron that Øvrebø never communicated with him throughout the match. Twenty minutes from time, Drogba limped off the pitch when Barcelona were a man down due to Abidal's sending-off: "The coach didn't ask me how I was or how I was feeling. I had already played with more pain than that," Drogba revealed.
"If I had stayed on, the two Barcelona center-backs would have beaten me. Enter Belletti, he's a defender. Without me, Gerard Pique can play much higher now. In midfield, we were short-handed now."
"I don't think Øvrebø had anything against Chelsea or that the game was rigged. He just lost his way," Chapron added. In the 79th minute, Chelsea's French striker Nicolas Anelka was brought down in the box after a duel with Barcelona's Yaya Toure.
According to Chapron, this could have been a penalty, but Øvrebø did not signal it because he was not close to the action. The former French referee noted that he sure would have loved to have VAR on this day. "Me too," added Drogba.
A blatant handball by Piqué sent Stamford Bridge wild, but again Øvrebø denied Chelsea a fairly obvious penalty. "The referee waved his arms as if there was no foul, so he saw something. But he said there was nothing to whistle," added Drogba. He just gave Barcelona a red card, he didn't feel like giving a second one. He was afraid of that. "You shouldn't referee a game of that magnitude if you're afraid to make decisions," Drogba said.
Chapron wondered if the Norwegian referee thought subconsciously, that a final against Chelsea and Manchester United, who qualified the day before over Arsenal, would not have been great publicity for the Champions League. Because those same teams met in the final the year before.
After Iniesta's goal and already in the 95th minute, Samuel Eto'o deflected Michael Ballack's volley into the penalty area with his arm. Once again, Øvrebø was not interested in whistling anything and was chased by the German midfielder. "He's running away, he's running away," Chapron reflected. "Everyone went crazy there," Drogba recalled. Look, I don't believe in conspiracy theories but when something like that happens, with the referee two meters away from the action, after so much build-up... It's a disgrace."
At the end of the match, Drogba, furious, confronted Øvrebø: "I told him he was a disgrace and that people would remember him," reveals the former Chelsea striker: "I was restrained but I wanted to say certain things to him, but I would never hit a referee."
When Chapron asks him what he would do if he met Øvrebø now, Drogba replies that he would shake his hand. "He is lucky I won the Champions League later," Drogba said.
"There are no hard feelings. Time takes its toll. I later met some Barca players from that game. They told me they didn't know or understand what happened that night. Nobody did."
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