It is time for La Liga to embrace goal-line technology. Barcelona were denied a clear goal in the top-of-the-table clash at Mestalla on Sunday night and had to scrap for a point that may well have been three if the decision had been different.
Spain’s LFP (Professional Football League) president Javier Tebas has said that goal-line technology is too expensive, but in 2017, can a league that is widely considered as the world’s best afford not to have it? Surely the answer is no.
As things stand, the Primera Division is the only one of Europe’s top five leagues without the technology and even though VAR (which stands for Video Assistant Referee) will be introduced in the 2018-19 season, that will not include goal-line replays – initially at least.
Barca came into this match with a four-point lead over Valencia, while Ernesto Valverde’s side were also 10 points clear of both Real Madrid and Atletico prior to the weekend’s fixtures.
Valverde picked a strong side, with Thomas Vermaelen in for a rare start as Gerard Pique missed out through suspension and Javier Mascherano sidelined. And the visitors dominated the first half against Marcelino’s men – also unbeaten in La Liga and so impressive this term.
The Catalans attempted 438 passes in the first 45 minutes, more than any other half of football in La Liga in 2017-18, and they should have gone in with a goal to their name as well after Neto spilled Messi’s shot over his line after 30 minutes.
The assistant was in a good position and should have been able to spot, as many fans and journalists in the stadium did, that the ball was clearly over. Television replays confirmed that it had and by some distance, but play was waved on, much to the confusion of Messi and his team-mates.
Technology, however, would take away the element of doubt in the minds of the officials. These days a replay can be on our screens within seconds and it would not slow down the game. That is what should be happening at the games as well.
Valencia, without a match in midweek and with Simone Zaza, Carlos Soler and Goncalo Guedes all rested in last weekend’s win over Espanyol, were fresher and also better in the second half, and took the lead when Rodrigo got in front of Vermaelen to fire home after an hour.
It looked like that would be the winner and it was harsh on Barca, but Jordi Alba rose impressively to fire home a majestic Messi pass for 1-1 late in the game to salvage a draw which keeps Valencia four back, but sees Madrid and Atletico only eight behind now after their wins on Saturday.
“When the ball crosses the line by three metres, a goal has to be given,” Alba said afterwards. “Even from the halfway line you could see it was over. Incredible. It happened to us last season and it may be why we lost La Liga then. It’s a terrible error.”
Indeed, it was Alba’s shot at Betis in 2016-17 that clearly crossed the line but was not given as Barca drew 1-1. Ultimately, they lost La Liga by three points, but such decisions can have an impact and it is time for Spain to embrace technology to ensure the competition is as fair as possible. Because right now, that is not the case.