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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


Champions League – Wednesday Open Thread

Written by on March 9, 2011 | 27 Comments »
Posted in General, UEFA Champions League

The Premier League and Serie A each lost a team yesterday and we are guaranteed that one of the leagues will lose another. With Spurs holding a 1-0 from the away leg at the San Siro they are red hot favourites to move on and allow Milan to focus on the domestic league in Italy.

Any reference to Spurs win by the only goal of the away match more times than not comes with mention of the away goal rule and how in the event of a tie that goal is vital as it will be counted as double.

However, just after the first leg at the San Siro I received a very interesting e mail from a reader of the web site and a viewer of the Fox Soccer Report, resident in Edmonton.

“Here is my analysis on the “away-goal rule”: Whenever the visiting team wins the first game of a “two game total goal series” by shutting out the home team, the “away goal rule” will never be required to determine to overall winner.

In order to tie the aggregate score after two games, the score in the second game must be the exact opposite of the first game. Therefor both teams will always have the same number of away goals. In this case there will always be overtime played and, if required, penalty kicks.

If a visiting team scores any away goals, they could only be a factor in determining the outcome if the home team also scores.

The Edmonton Journal article mentioned above should have mentioned the importance of the away goal scored by Valencia in their 1-1 draw against Schalke, but failed to do so.

It seems to be a generally misunderstood concept, especially to all my “on-soccer” friends and acquaintances.

As a longtime player, coach, referee and most of all a soccer lover, I have made it my mission in life to clear up this misconception. Just kidding, of course. But if you agree with me, maybe you can explain it to the writers of the show to avoid this confusion. I believe the very professional staff at the Fox Soccer Report should be well informed on this subject.”

After hearing the away goal rule being quoted for decades the point made in the e mail has never sunk in with me until I received this excellent analysis of the situation.Thank you.

Which nicely leads to the second legs of both games today. Can Milan pull off something close to a miracle result and can Schalke move to the last eight with a scoreless draw, a win or even a penalty kick decider against Valencia?

27 responses to “Champions League – Wednesday Open Thread”

  1. Stu says:

    Good point, probably haven’t thought of it that way before.

    I personally get annoyed hearing the simplification that “away goals count double.” I think using this shorthand has misled too many people about how that scoring system works. I can’t believe the number of proper English match commentators, with decades of experience, who still fumble all over themselves when the score changes mid-game and they have to re-calculate who goes through. It’s really not that hard…

  2. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    One Italian team down. One more to go today. I can’t believe I’m rooting for the Spuds but there it is. I like the way they play.

    M Busacca did the 2009 UCL Final between FCB & ManU. I can’t believe such a highly qualified official sent off RvP yesterday. The ref had no commen sense at all with that one. Don’t expect to see Busacca doing another big UCL match this year. Hopefully, we don’t see another ‘Busacca’ performance today.

    Roma – Ciao

    Milan – You’re next.

  3. Soccerlogical says:

    How far does ‘Arry actually think he can go with Crouch (just one skill level above Zigic) up front and Dawson at the back?

  4. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Expect both Bale and Dafoe to come on soon and run at tired Italian legs soon. I can see Nesta and Seedorf showing their age in the second half.

    The other tie is precariously perched @ 1-1 @ HT (could be extra time or penalties there). Hopefully, Valencia can get the job done and place another club in the QFs.

    Both ties are still very interesting at the half.

  5. John Bladen says:

    Interesting, Bobby. I hadn’t known that the away goals rule was beyond grasp for some. It’s fairly straightforward, unlike some other concepts that dimwitted ex-pro-turned-commentators struggle with…

    Maybe Darke & McManaman have been reading/watching your comments… I noticed Darke ran down the ‘body part’ discussion in relation to offside the other day. I’m not sure he got it completely right, but it’s a start…

  6. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Roma – Ciao

    Milan – Arrivederci

    Inter – You’re “on the clock” (but the way Bayern are playing lately, anything can happen; and if BM get put out, LvG will be leaving even sooner than recently ‘agreed upon’).

    Sad to see Valencia get put out. But it looks like Schalke were full marks today. The way this tie ended, for me, was the only real upset so far in the R16.

  7. Gus Keri says:

    There is nothing wrong with using the term “away goals count double”.

    When you have home and away series, the results of each game become less important than the sum of the two.

    Using the “double” phrase actually cut the number of steps to decide a game.

    I will give an example:

    team A is playing team B.

    team A – team B: 2-1
    team B – team A: 3-2

    The steps to decide a winner:
    1- At the end of 180 minutes, the winner is the team that scored the most goals. (team A – team B: 4-4)
    2- if equal, the winner is the team that scored more gaols in the away ground. (team A – team B: 2-1)

    Result: team A is the winner

    When you use the “double” concept, you don’t have to use the second step.

    The result of the game would be:
    team A – team B: 2-2 (insted of 2-1)
    team B – team A: 3-4 (instead of 3-2)

    1- the winner is the team that scored the most goals. team A – team B: 6-5

    It would be resonable in the Tottenham vs Milan game to say that Tottenham won 1-0 (but it’s 2-0 on the “double” rule)

    But I commend the e-mail writer for clarifying that if the home team didn’t score in the first leg, the away rule is not going to help the away team if they win, but it definitely will help the other team in the second leg.

  8. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Using the term “away goals count double” is confusing and incorrect. It gives the impression that each away goal is awarded at X2 (which is definitely not the case).

    It is far more simple and correct to say that away goals “are the tiebreaker”. Succinctness is the nectar in a logical world.

  9. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Gomes is a fantastic shot stopper. But he is one keeper that makes goalkeeping ‘interesting’. He had a couple of interesting moments today that Milan did not take advantage of.

    Surprising that Milan could not score one goal against the Spuds in 180′ of footy. Against a team that has a keeper that makes things interesting, and defenders like Dawson and Assou-Ekotto, one would think there would be plenty of goals to go around. Milan has plenty of quality up front with their front three but they have absolutely no quality in the midfield (to provide the front three with proper service) to compete at this level in Europe in 2011 – Boateng, Flamini, and Seedorf (once was a good player, not in 2011).

  10. Soccerlogical says:

    On paper, no way that Schalke should have knocked out a squad full of talented Valencia players. Hopefully, people will now realize that Unai Emery is neither a good man manager or tactician and Valencia will realize their full potential under a proper manager next season.

  11. redfan says:

    I sometimes think that the only difference between ‘arry and Woy is that ‘arry has a better squad of players to both hit long balls and receive them. If that seems a tad simplistic, then I apologise but watching today’s ‘backs to the wall boys’ Spurs performance, that was what crossed my mind.

  12. Rossoneri Red Devil says:

    Couldn’t bring myself to even post after that game yesterday. I was proud of the way my boys dominated the game, but that made the lack of an equalizer even harder to bear. As I knew would happen, Tottenham took Ibra out of the game, and without his creativity a goal was impossible with ‘Arry’s boys camping out in defense.

    How good does the Gallas signing look in retrospect?? I admit it– I thought when Frenchy cut him loose he no longer had what it took to compete on this level.

  13. Eaglesoar says:

    “Whenever the visiting team wins the first game of a “two game total goal series” by shutting out the home team, the “away goal rule” will never be required to determine to overall winner.”…… Okay- what if Milan won the game 2-1? then the aggregate score would be 2-2…in which case Milan wins by virtue of away goals…so I think your explanation confuses the issue even further.

  14. Boris says:

    Sandro is beginning to show signs of quality as he’s getting more playing time. He played great yesterday and could be that anchor that Tottenham need. If I were to chose the support player for Modric between Sandro and Huddlestone, I would pick Sandro, albeit the latter might be a better passer of the ball.

  15. Derek Taylor says:

    The viewer’s point taken, there is a minor issue:

    “Whenever the visiting team wins the first game of a “two game total goal series” by shutting out the home team, the “away goal rule” will never be required to determine to overall winner.”

    …in favor of the first visiting team. Clearly there’s a case where are 0-1 result can be undone by a 1-2 result in the second leg (2-2 aggregate, 2nd visiting team advances on away goals)

    Nonetheless an away goal remains “valuable” in the first leg. The team at home for leg 2 is more likely to earn a clean sheet than the now-visiting team. And the home team doesn’t have to score (see Tottenham vs. Milan). That’s why 0-1 first legs have been turned around only about 7% of the time in the history of the European Cup/Champions League.

    If I was at work I could pull up the stat about what it means to score an away goal regardless of the outcome of the game. Any away goal is a big deal. It is well illustrated by the fact that teams trailing 2-1 after the first leg win their tie more often than teams leading 2-1 (I believe 72-70 all time in EC/CL)

    As for the possible confusion, I explain it to non-soccer folks as “if you have score more away goals than your opponent, essentially it’s worth half a goal.” 4-4 with the away goals advantage is like 4.5-4, since one Nicklas Bendtner non-blunder* would give the other team the win.

    *that last part was specifically for you Bobby 🙂

  16. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    Isn’t it easier to explain this rule as, “in the event of the aggregate score being tied, away goals are the tiebreaker”? Or, more simply, “away goals are the tiebreaker” (much like goal difference in the EPL season or head-to-head in the La Liga season).

    Let’s keep it simple people.

  17. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Boris – What about Palacios?

  18. Eaglesoar says:

    Thanks Derek- the confusion is in the wording….if the first statement had added “in favour of the visiting team”, then no confusion…. alas, I think everyone here gets it….

  19. Boris says:

    Theo van Nasarshavregas,

    I don’t know what happened to Palacios. It could be that he’s just rusty from getting less playing opportunities but he’s clearly not the same player he once was. I remember the first year he joined with Tottenham how well he worked with Modric, but things have changed. He often seems insecure and tends to make poor decisions especially in his passing game.

  20. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    I thought Redsnapper was picking Palacios as his first choice DM during the first half of the year. Now, he’s out of the rotation. Maybe he’s injured? Anyway, I don’t follow the Spuds as closely as you but from what I have seen I don’t think there is much to choose between Sandro and Palacios. Sandro did have a strong game yesterday however. And congratulations on your advancement in the big dance. Enjoy it, as I don’t think the Spuds get further in the big dance than The Arsenal too often (nor will they going forward).

    So have a glass of bubbly on me (or in the name of your North London neighbours). Cheers.

  21. Derek Taylor says:


    Agreed. I’m usually concerned with the running total as the game is going on. I find it helps me to use the half-goal.

  22. Boris says:


    Thank you for the toast. You never know what might happen. If they get Barcelona or Man U, they probably won’t go through but I fancy their chances against some of the other teams. They have quality and with a little luck, they could go further.

  23. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    If I were you, you should be more concerned over the prospect of facing Real Madrid than ManUre (and even Chel$ki for that matter). I don’t rate this ManIOU vintage as anything special and certainly nothing to be feared. They may not even get to the QFs for that matter. A greatly over rated side for my money that is put on some mystical pedestal by the media types.

    In a two legged tie I would want to avoid (in this order):
    1) Barça
    2) Madrid
    3) Chelsea

    And from FCB’s point of view, I would rather play a predictable side like ManIOU (with little, if nothing, to fear in the midfield now that Nani is out) than an unpredictable side loaded with pace and midfield creativity (Potato Men) over two legs.

  24. Derek Taylor says:

    Just for posterity since I’m now back at work:

    Teams that score one or more away goals (regardless of the first-leg result) win the tie 71% of the time.

  25. Gus Keri says:


    This is not a causative effect.
    It is not because teams scored away goals they won.

    It’s that the teams that scored away goals most likely are better and therefore they won more often.

    So, the better teams caused both things to happen (the away goals and the wins).

    Did I confuse you enough?

  26. Derek Taylor says:


    I didn’t say the away goal caused them to win or was the margin of victory. I only pointed out that when teams have a non-zero number of away goals in the first leg, they have won 71% of the time.

    Your interpretation of the statistic is probably correct.

  27. Derek Taylor says:

    Just came to me to check this…merely being away for the first leg is a significant advantage. Overall 54.6% of the teams away for the first leg have won the tie (1004 out of 1839).

    Even eliminating the Round of 16 in the Champions League era (where the group winners get to be away first and aren’t randomly drawn), it’s still 54.2%.

    If I’m missing some other seeding from past tournaments, that could cloud the results further.

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