Koeman on Madrid penalty controversy: If someone is better off not talking about referees, it's me!

By Sports Desk May 10, 2021

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman reiterated his stance on VAR but was unwilling to comment on the controversial penalty awarded against Real Madrid through fear of being further punished.

Zinedine Zidane was left furious after Sevilla were given a spot-kick for handball against Eder Militao as Madrid were held 2-2 on Sunday, meaning the LaLiga title is no longer in their own hands.

Los Blancos thought they had earned a penalty for Yassine Bounou's foul on Karim Benzema at 1-1, only for a VAR review to overturn the decision because of Militao's handball at the other end at the start of the move.

Sevilla were instead awarded a penalty and Ivan Rakitic converted from 12 yards, though Madrid did at least rescue a point in the 94th minute through a goal later credited to Eden Hazard in what is the tightest LaLiga title battle in years.

Barcelona have themselves been on the wrong end of some controversial decisions this season, with Koeman questioning why VAR is even used in the Spanish top flight after his side were denied two penalties in their loss to Madrid.

The Dutchman, who has just served a two-game ban for comments made to the fourth official during last month's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada, did not want to get involved in the drama that unfolded at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

"If someone is better off not talking about refereeing, it is me," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's trip to Levante. "I have already said what I think, my opinion has not changed. 

"If Madrid think they were harmed, that is their problem. As for VAR, I will not repeat any more."

Barcelona remain two points off leaders Atletico Madrid following Saturday's stalemate between the sides and level on points with Madrid, who are one place better off due to their superior head-to-head record over their Clasico rivals.

Barca have collected just 10 of the last 18 points available in LaLiga, after picking up 45 from the previous 51, which Koeman puts down to fatigue at the end of another gruelling campaign behind closed doors.

"There are a lot of games that take their toll," the Dutchman said. "It is normal for all teams, especially those who have played in Europe and have reached cup finals this season.

"In addition, playing without an audience can also play a part. That's why many teams have dropped points at home. It's not normal for so many games to be played. The team that is physically and mentally stronger will win the title. 

"We will fight until the last moment to win the league. It is not in our hands and we cannot afford to make any mistakes."

Koeman has another year to run on the contract signed when taking over as Barca boss last August, but his future will reportedly come down to whether his side finish top of the LaLiga standings or not.

However, the Dutchman remains confident he will still be in charge at Camp Nou next season regardless of results over Barca's remaining three matches.

"There is nothing to answer on my future," he said. "You don't have to look for stories that are not there. From the first day he arrived, the president has shown me his confidence. If anyone can decide, it's him.

"The future is not for me to be worried about because I've signed two years as a coach. We have agreed to talk after the season, but before then we have two weeks and three more games to go.

"I cannot win a battle with the press or people on the outside. For many periods this season they have valued me. For me, the important people are those who I work with every day and who value what we are doing."

Koeman has not lost any of his two matches against Levante as a manager, with his teams keeping a clean sheet in both previous encounters, including a 1-0 win for Barcelona in this season's reverse fixture.

However, Levante have won two of their last three meetings with Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia in LaLiga - one more than they had in their previous 11 home games against them in the competition.

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    But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

    There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

    Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

    And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

    The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

    Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

    It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

    Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

    In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

    Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

    It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

    That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

    By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

    Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

    Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

    Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

    The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

    And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

    The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

    Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

    Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

    Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

    In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

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    Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

    But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

    If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

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    A sublime Lionel Messi free-kick was not enough for Argentina to start the Copa America with a victory as Chile striker Eduardo Vargas salvaged a 1-1 draw.

    Argentina had much the better of the first half and mercurial captain Messi put them in front with a brilliant free-kick in the Group B encounter at Estadio Nilton Santos.

    Vargas came to Chile's rescue after the break, heading home the rebound after Emiliano Martinez saved Arturo Vidal's penalty.

    Nicolas Gonzalez was particularly wasteful as Argentina were unable to secure what would have been a deserved victory in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

    Messi is yet to win a trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

    Giovani Lo Celso was Chile's chief tormentor in a promising start from the Albiceleste, setting up chances that Lautaro Martinez and Gonzalez were unable to take.

    Gonzalez headed over the crossbar after his shot was palmed away by Claudio Bravo and the forward also failed to beat the Chile goalkeeper with a tame finish when the lively Lo Celso sent him clear with an incisive pass.

    Messi produced yet another moment of magic to put Argentina in front, though, bending a brilliant free-kick into the top-right corner after 33 minutes.

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    "I have heard the whistles for Morata but then he was applauded off. He does a lot for the team and he is used to these situations so I do not think it will affect him."

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    "Today he was not lucky in the face of goal, but he will be," Llorente said.

    "I don't think the whistles are good. Anyone who was inside would like to be supported and applauded.

    "We've got two group games left and the support of our fans is a great help."

    Pedri added: "We can all fail, we all do. He [Morata] works a lot for the team and that can be seen on the field. He needs support. I tell people to keep trusting us, we are a great team.

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    Luis Enrique felt the playing surface at Seville's La Cartuja stadium hampered his players in front of goal.

    He said: "What we try to do is to generate scoring chances, the field was not helping much. If you haven't noticed the players have complained. 

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