“These kinds of things sometimes happen.” The words of Pep Guardiola after news that the botched Champions League last-16 draw was voided. A rather philosophical approach for a manager who was set to face Villarreal in the first knockout round.
Others haven’t been as magnanimous. Poetically, using technology to simplify life can make it more confusing, as UEFA graciously highlighted on Monday. A simple software problem may be commonplace nowadays, but it’s arguably about to turn the competition on its head. It’s great for the spectators, yet some teams may find it hazardous.
Potential Finalists Out at the First Hurdle
Sports and gambling are related, particularly football, the most popular and profitable sportsbook in the world. However, online football betting represents more than entertainment. It also shows the possible repercussions of balls being drawn from a hat, or a rogue computer program. In this case, to bet on football online reveals a market dominated by Man City (11/4), Bayern Munich (7/2) and Liverpool (11/2).
Usually, PSG and Real Madrid would be featured at the top of the rankings, and they were before the failed draw on December 13th. However, afterwards, their respective odds tumbled. Yes, they must face the prospect of playing one another next February, causing PSG to be quoted at 9/1 for the outright win.
Madrid, meanwhile, are considerably worse off since their odds of 16/1 are longer than Ajax’s. Even with Los Blancos struggling for form compared to previous years, this can only be explained by the draw. Facing Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar is no mean feat, so they’ll do well to swerve the hurdle.
The Road to Redemption
Of course, there is a flip side to this coin. Consider Manchester United, an organisation that’s understandably much happier now the dust has settled. After all, Cristiano Ronaldo and co can count themselves lucky not to be playing PSG. Instead, Atletico Madrid are their opponents when the first-leg is played on February 23rd.
Atletico are the current La Liga champions, which means they deserve respect. Still, the team’s form has been up and down, making them favourable competitors for a side that is buoyed by the arrival of a new coach. The bookies agree, making United 18/1 favourites for the tournament and Atletico 40/1.
The same applies to Benfica and Ajax, two clubs that have managed to avoid Real Madrid and Inter Milan respectively. As a result, a lane has appeared for one of them to carve open and potentially go deep into the competition at the expense of their bigger rivals.
Fading Faith in Governing Bodies
Sports fans already know that faith in governing bodies’ ability to do their jobs is low after the FIA’s handling of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sadly, it appears as if the attitude is catching because the football community is unhappy with the organisational levels of the draw, with some even accusing UEFA of underhand tactics.
Europe’s regulatory establishment has already launched an investigation, yet it won’t be enough to allay fears it is not fit for purpose. UEFA will hope the tournament is exciting enough to cover the cracks, and it may be if the strongest possible squads get to the semi-finals and final, which is very feasible.
Of course, football knows it looks bad on the world stage right now. Therefore, it must react rapidly to ensure this situation never happens again. Otherwise, Europe’s flagship show will be a global laughingstock.
Clubs that shouldn’t be knocked out will be. Teams that should have been knocked out won’t be. Football is under fire. All this occurred in seconds after a ‘clerical error’. Who said technology doesn’t have downsides?!