Did we just see the worst penalty ever given?
By Joe Harker
"Never touched him ref!" Is the shout heard many a time on the football pitch when a penalty is given, or at least sentiments to that effect. Sometimes it's the look of shock and disbelief, sometimes they'll wave their arms and pretend they're the most innocent soul on the planet. A few just groan and accept their fate. It rarely works.
There are few things in football quite as frustrating as incorrect penalty decisions. Penalties often lead to goals and fans will go to their graves insisting that some incident from an important game years ago is a grave injustice that has never been corrected.
Manchester City's second goal in their Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk was one of these occasions. City winger Raheem Sterling fell over in the box without a challenge and referee Viktor Kassai awarded a penalty. Gabriel Jesus scored from the spot to put City 2-0 up. Replays showed that Sterling had not been challenged at all, instead accidentally kicking the ground when attempting to shoot. It was an absolute farce.
To be fair to Shakhtar Donetsk fans, it probably wouldn't have changed much. They lost 6-0, comprehensively demolishing any suggestion that not giving it would have changed the game.
Sterling has since apologised to the referee, explaining the incident from his perspective. It is unlikely that he simulated contact to win a penalty, as it was clear to almost everyone except the referee that no penalty should have been given. He said: "I went to chip the ball and don't know what happened.
"I didn't feel contact. I scuffed the ball. Apologies to the ref."
Many fans are calling it the "worst penalty decision ever". There have been plenty of bad penalty shouts given in football but when something like this occurs it takes the proverbial cake.
City manager Pep Guardiola insisted the blame lay with the lack of VAR use rather than Sterling for falling over. He also defended Sterling for not immediately telling the referee no contact had been made and he'd just tripped over by himself, referencing a goal his team conceded in last year's Champions League against Liverpool. He said: "last season Liverpool and James Milner could say the same for the pass for the second goal in the 44th minute of the quarter-final. That was a legal goal.
"VAR is what it is. I said a long time ago the refs must be helped. They want to make a good performance, they don't want to make mistakes but today the game is quick and fast and the players are more skilled."
Former referee Keith Hackett said after the game referees can't expect players to own up when they make mistakes that are given as fouls. Instead he criticised Kassai for not being in the right position to view the incident and of guessing on such a big decision. The other officials in the game seemingly offered no other help and Hackett argued that the incident was a huge reason why VAR is needed.