It cannot be argued that the promotion/ relegation play-offs in all three top divisions in Germany didn’t produce drama and excitement. Werder Bremen, 1.FC Nürnberg and SC Verl all emerged triumphant courtesy of the away goals rule. However, the vanquished 1.FC Heidenheim, Ingolstadt and Lokomotive Leipzig will all feel extremely hard done by as a result. It is time for the away goals rule to be scrapped.
Werder Bremen avoided a first relegation since 1981, while Heidenheim missed out on a dream promotion thanks to the two goals the Grün-Weißen scored at the Voith Arena in the second leg. It was extremely tough on the 2. Bundesliga side and nobody could really argue that Werder were the ‘better side’ over the two matches.
Did Werder deserve their place in next season’s Bundesliga having endured an awful season and then being unable to beat their second division opponents?
The clash between Nürnberg and Ingolstadt for a place in the second tier was even more dramatic with Der Club scoring a 96th minute goal to secure their away goals progress. Having lost the first-leg 2-0, Ingolstadt produced a great display to lead 3-0 at the Audi Sportpark thanks to three second half goals. Fabian Schleusener’s late, late goal was a consolation in the match, but so very important overall.
But who is to say that Nürnberg’s 2-0 win at home is more worthy than Ingolstadt’s 3-1 win? With so much at stake, how can a solitary goal in an empty stadium count for so much. There were heated exchanges and near-fisticuffs at the final whistle such was the passion involved and you have to feel for Ingolstadt after what they achieved in the second half of the second leg.
SC Verl were also the beneficiaries of the away goals rule as the secured their place in next season’s 3. Liga. A 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Bruno-Place Stadion in Saxony was followed by a 1-1 stalemate in the return leg at the Schüco Arena.
Yes, all participants knew the rules before the two-legged play-offs started, but surely it is time to rethink this antiquated way of settling matches?
Back in 2015, Arsene Wenger (whose Arsenal side had just been eliminated by Monaco on away goals), suggested that the rule was out of date, saying: “The rule was created in the 1960s and the weight of the away goal is too great today.”
The Gunners’ boss received the support of many of Europe’s top coaches last September, when he joined a meeting including the likes of Jose Mourinho, his Arsenal successor Unai Emery and Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri. The coaches asked that UEFA review use of the rule, arguing that it scared home teams into negative tactics to avoid conceding as much as encouraging positivity from the visitors.
Giorgio Marchetti, the governing body’s deputy general secretary, acknowledged: “The coaches think that scoring goals away is not as difficult as it was in the past. They think the rule should be reviewed and that’s what we will do.”
In spite of unverified reports claiming UEFA is ready to scrap away goals, there has been no official confirmation as yet that the rule will be changed.
Werder Bremen, Nürnberg and Verl will have no complaints this time around, whereas Heidenheim, Ingolstadt and Lokomotive Leipzig will be left wondering how a positive season, full of hard work and effort has been left meaning nothing courtesy of a antiquated rule from the 1960’s.
As Bob Dylan once sang, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’- maybe its time for the away-goals rule to be scrapped in Germany (and everywhere else). You’d be hearing very few arguments against that point of view from Heidenheim, Ingolstadt, or Verl.