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KING CANTONA’S RETURN WILL CROWN TRIBUTE FOR SCHOLES THE GREATEST ENGLISH FOOTBALLER OF 21ST CENTURY

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Eric Cantona look forward to his return

Eric Cantona look forward to his return

BY JOHN GUBBA

How fitting that Paul Scholes – the outstanding English footballer of his generation – will be honoured by the return of Eric the King to Old Trafford.

Eric Cantona will coach the legendary New York Cosmos who take on Manchester United on Friday 5 August in the testimonial for the incomparable Scholes.

Cantona quit United in 1997 after winning four titles and two domestic doubles in his five seasons at the club.

“I am looking forward to returning to Old Trafford in my new role with New York Cosmos,” said Cantona.

“I wish to congratulate Paul for such an incredible career at Manchester United.”

Scholes, who announced his retirement in the wake of United’s Champions League final defeat by Barcelona, said: “I have spent my whole footballing life at Manchester United, so this will be an emotional farewell.

“I hope the fans enjoy the night, especially seeing the boss and Eric battling it out in front of the dugouts.”

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Paul Scholes the greatest English footballer of his generation

Paul Scholes the greatest English footballer of his generation

MANCHESTER IS THE NEW MILAN: A CITY UNITED AS THE CENTRE OF THE FOOTBALLING UNIVERSE. CAN LIVERPOOL STRIKE BACK?

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A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day - but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City's FA Cup win

A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day – but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City’s FA Cup win

BY JOHN GUBBA

Welcome to the dawning of a new era with the City of Manchester now well and truly the centre of the footballing universe. And mark my words this is great news for United because there is nothing like a new challenge to keep you on your toes.

In case you needed a reminder the United are still the top dog, it was sweet irony that once again United eclipsed City on the day Roberto Mancini’s men claimed their first trophy in 35 years.

As City beat Stoke 1-0 at Wembley to win the FA Cup thanks to Yaya Toure’s late strike, United fans were already back in Manchester celebrating another Premier League triumph and a record-breaking 19th League title courtesy of their 1-1 draw at Blackburn secured by Wayne Rooney’s penalty.

Does anyone doubt Rooney's dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds' 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number '19' into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

Does anyone doubt Rooney’s dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds’ 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number ’19′ into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

But this was a day for Manchester to be United in celebration. Not just because the City can proudly boast the unique feat of winning two trophies on the same day. It is great for Manchester to be the undisputed Mecca of fooball. Even Milan can no longer match the glamour of England’s hotbed of football. And the odds are that the new intensity is here to stay.

I remember the end of the 60s when United and City last dominated football in this country. It was great for both clubs. And this time that great rivalry can last much longer than it did back in the days of Best, Law, Charlton and Lee, Bell, Summerbee.

With Liverpool getting their act together under the legendary Kenny Dalglish, what are the odds on the North-West giants occupying the top three positions in the Premier League next season and eclipsing the fading stars of Chelsea and Arsenal.

My bet is that Sir Alex Ferguson’s record-breakers will face a rejuvenated challenge from Liverpool next season as the Merseysiders seek to match United’s 19th League title. When Chelsea frivolously handed the Pool £50million for Fernando Torres Dalglish invested the money wisely and now has a good mix of established stars and exciting upcoming youngsters.

But the real fascination will be how much ground can neighbours City make up on Fergie’s champions after ending their 35 year wait for a trophy to add to their qualification for the Champions League.

There is no doubt City must spend another vast fortune if they want to rival the Reds at the top table. But that will be harder said than done despite their untold riches and their Champions League status.

The reason is the introduction of UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules.

Michel Platini has warned that the likes of big-spending Manchester City and Chelsea, and some of Europe’s biggest clubs, will have to ‘face the music’ if they do not comply with the new FFP regulations.

UEFA’s latest figures show that financial problems affecting European clubs are getting worse, with spending on player wages up almost 10 per cent – and increasing at a faster rate than income.

Under their new rules, clubs will face possible bans from European competition from the 2014/15 season if they spend more than they earn in the three years before.

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title - both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title – both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

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Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

NOT ONLY HAS FERGIE "KNOCKED LIVERPOOL OFF THEIR BLOODY PERCH" – HE’S THE GREATEST FOOTBALL MANAGER EVER

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All salute Sir Alex Ferguson - the greatest football manager of all time

All salute Sir Alex Ferguson – the greatest football manager of all time

BY JOHN GUBBA

OK it’s never over until the Fat Lady sings and Manchester United still need one more point to confirm that record-breaking 19th title that will finally achieve Sir Alex Ferguson’s mission of “knocking Liverpool off their bloody perch.”

But the party has already started – and no one will stop The Red Devils now after a pulsating 2-1 win against Chelsea that will deservedly bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.

The really big question now  is can United crown arguably Fergie’s greatest ever season by beating Barcelona at Wembley to win the Champions League? With Ryan Giggs playing the best football of his career, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez an unstoppable force, and the brilliant Edwin Van Der Saar playing behind  the best back four in Europe, United have the ammunition to end the season with the ultimate victory.

And that will make a mockery of the critics who keep telling us this is not a great United team. While other clubs have squandered millions, United’s miracle worker has quietly re-built yet another team capable of winning everything. And it’s the unerring longevity of the Glaswegian that makes him so special.

When Ferguson famously arrived at Old Trafford 25 years ago and said his aim was to emulate Liverpool as the most prolific club in England, this is what he was talking about. Remarkably, when United complete the Premier League formalities, this will be Fergie’s 12th title. United’s previous seven titles came between 1908 and 1967.

Not only has the greatest football manager of all time achieved yet another impossible dream. But once again he has made fools of the Southern-biased media who can’t wait to see him fail.

Seven months ago Chelsea looked odds-on to retain the Premier League title and the prophets of gloom were writing off Manchester United and their manager as a spent force. But then came Fergie’s masterful handing of the Wayne Rooney saga that – as I predicted at the time – re-ignited United’s latest trophy haul.

At a time when the stakes have never been higher and other football clubs have much bigger budgets than the Red half of Manchester, United have proved why they are the greatest football club on the planet. If United can add victory over Barca on May 28 no one will be able to deny that Fergie is simply the best.

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HISTORY BECKONS – VICTORY FOR MANCHESTER UNITED OVER CHELSEA MEANS RECORD TITLE NUMBER 19

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http://youtu.be/G2G_Hddh2OE

BY JOHN GUBBA

There is much more than the Premier League title at stake when Manchester United face down defending champions Chelsea in the mother of all showdowns at The Theatre of Dreams on Sunday.

When Sir Alex Ferguson famously arrived at Old Trafford 25 years ago and said he’d arrived to knock Liverpool off their perch this is what he was talking about. A record breaking 19th League title will see The Red Devils finally eclipse their Merseyside rivals.

The football world asked themselves who was this crazy Glaswegian who thought he could achieve what seemed an impossible feat when he made his proud boast all those years ago.

“How long did this guy think he was going to be in the job,” says former England boss Graham Taylor, a reaction that was pretty much the universal response from everyone in the game.

But here we are a quarter of century later and the last man standing who can stop Fergie achieving that impossible dream is Carlo Ancelotti manager of a resurgent Chelsea side who have clawed back a 15 point deficit to stand just three points behind the League leaders with three matches remaining.

Fergie must get past Ancelotti to claim United's record-breaking 19th title

Fergie must get past Ancelotti to claim United's record-breaking 19th title

Victory for the Blues will put them top on goal difference with two to play. But any other result will surely put United on the road to the prize that United fans want above all other.

It s going to be a classic content, the occasion guarantees that it will be something special. And how great will it be for Fergie to effectively secure the record 19th title with victory over Ancelotti in front of a full house at Old Trafford – not to mention 600 million homes around the globe.

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MOURINHO WINNING MIND-GAMES: BUT WILL LIONEL MESSI OR CRISTIANO RONALDO BE TOP DOG AT THE BERNABEU?

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BY JOHN GUBBA

Guardiola v Mourinho

Tonight’s first installment of the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona is going to be fascinating. And if it’s half as fierce as the pre-match mind-games it’s going to be another El Classico.

In one corner we have Madrid boss Jose Mourinho insisting: “I am not asking the referee to help my team. If the referee is good everyone will be happy – except Guardiola. He wants them to get it wrong.This is something I have never seen in the world of football.”

While the Barca boss hit back with an uncharacteristic foul-mouthed tirade declaring: “In the press room he is the [expletive] chief. He is the [expletive] man. I try not to play the game off the pitch.” Added Pep Guardiola: “He’s much better than me at it. I represent an institution that believes this is not the best way to do things.”

On the pitch it’s Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. Can’t wait for the kick-off at the Bernabeu.

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WHY JOSE MOURINHO WILL WAIT FOR SIR ALEX FERGUSON TO RETIRE BEFORE HE RETURNS TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE

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Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

BY JOHN GUBBA

Jose Mourinho’s declaration that he will return to manage in the Premier League one day guarantees the self-appointed “special one” will be linked with every top job until he is “back home”.

The big question is ‘Where will Mourinho end up?’ The truth is you can make a compelling case for the current Real Madrid boss to take the helm at any of the EPL’s Big Six.  But my belief is that the Portuguese maestro will wait for the top job, and the chance to succeed his good friend Sir Alex Ferguson – for the next couple of years at least.

There is no guarantee Mourinho will even get the job. There is a question mark over whether or not he can deliver the swashbuckling football United fans and their history demand. There is no sign of Sir Alex being ready to step aside as he closes in on the possibility of his greatest ever season in his 70th year.

Yet there is an aura and intoxicating self-belief about Mourinho that makes him absolutely perfect for United. And the very doubt about whether or not he could deliver at the world’s biggest and most famous club is precisely why the man at Madrid has his eyes on Old Trafford.

I’m not convinced Mourinho will get the chance to prove himself  any time soon. Fergie has the hunger and desire to go on indefinitely. And how can anyone follow the most successful football manager in the history of the game? But I can’t think of anyone better equipped to take on the hardest job in football.

When Roman Abramovich forced Mourinho out of Chelsea, he made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. And despite his affection for his time at Stamford Bridge, the devil in Mourinho would give him immense satisfaction to come back to the Premier League and rub the Russian’s nose in the billionaire’s miserable failure to understand that some things money just can’t buy.

With Carlo Ancelotti joining the long list of Chelsea managers failing to win the Champions League, the Italian is vulnerable despite winning the Double last year, because this season will end trophy-less.  As I predicted on transfer deadline day – if Chelsea fail to finish in the top four – Ancelotti will pay the price for the crazy 50 million pound signing of Fernando Torres. He may already be a dead man walking.

Either way do not expect Mourinho to rush back to Chelsea. He has already strongly rejected suggestions he will replace Roberto Mancini at Eastlands, whether or not Manchester City fail to end their 35 year wait for a trophy and miss out on a Champions League place.

Spurs will want Mourinho to replace Redknapp

Spurs will want Mourinho to replace Redknapp

Tottenham will undoubtedly make another move for Mourinho – who has previously turned them down on at least one occasion – when Harry Redknapp becomes the next England manager.

He will also be top of the list at Liverpooland Arsenal, should Kenny Dalglish step down or Arsene Wenger finally run out of time.  Arsenal’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup and Liverpool have never won the Premier League.

Unless Fergie delivers another Treble next month and decides to bow out in style – and even then I think he will want to carry on – I expect Mourinho to bide his time and remain in Madrid for another season at least.

In the meantime, what are the odds now on my prophecy coming true and Fergie having to conquer Mourinho’s Madrid at Wembley to win the Champions League?

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WHAT A DISGRACE: TOUCHLINE BAN FOR FERGIE IS PUNISHMENT FOR TELLING THE TRUTH – FA HAVE GOT IT WRONG

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BY JOHN GUBBA

THE PUBLIC debate over Sir Alex Ferguson’s five match touchline ban has been fascinating. the anti-Manchester United brigade on one side and the realists on the other. But the fact remains that Fergie was only telling the truth. And his defiance is actually for the good of the game.

Sir Alex has been harshly punished for critcising referee Martin Atkinson over a diabolical performance that cost United defeat by Chelsea in one of the biggest matches of the season. As the Boss says, football is the only industry where you get punished for telling the truth.

“Fergie Fury Ban” The Sun

It is disappointing to hear influential journalists like Henry Winter of the Telegraph declare that Fergie has been ‘let off lightly’. Former Chelsea midfielder turned pundit Andy Townsend  told ITV viewers United’s manager has ‘crossed the line.” And football phone-ins have been full of so-called experts declaring the 5-match ban is fair enough for doubting the referee’s integrity.

But football owes Sir Alex a debt of gratitude for challenging the outdated rule that the referee’s decision must not be questioned. Why on earth not? As I have said before, in this modern age football is a laughing stock when the watching world can instantly see the match officials have made a gross misjudgmenet.

Ferguson swiftly apologised to clarify that he was not questioning the referee’s integrity. Surely Ferguson and any other manager in the game is entitled to state his opinion when he believes the referee has made a mistake – as Arsene Wenger did when Rob Van Persie was disgracefully sent off in Barcelona and Avram Grant did at the weekend after West Ham’s FA Cup defeat at Stoke.

Both Wenger and Grant are now in the dock and facing punishment (which if football’s governing bodies are going to be consistent will be similarly severe, but that is another story!). But Ferguson, Wenger, Grant and the countless other managers who criticize referees are not doing anything unlawful.

This is 21st Century Britain where we pride ourselves on freedom of speech and fair play. What the Football Association should be tackling is how to improve refereeing standards and introduce technology to make the game fairer for all.

Alex Ferguson criticizes referee Martin Atkinson

Rival football fans often ridicule Sir Alex for pointing to his watch and insisting that injury time is added at the end of matches. But they all have  United’s manager to thank because he is largely responsible for the official introduction of injury time being announced at the end of all matches. And that is far better than the old system when no-one knew how much time would be added on.

Hopefully one day the game will find a way of stamping out bad refereeing decisions and not take the easy option of punishing a manager for telling the truth.

As former manager Kevin Blackwell said on BBC Radio this morning: Fergie was right and if he is being honest even Martin Atkinson will admit he made bad decisions in the Chelsea match.

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TAXI FOR CAPELLO! EVEN THINKING ABOUT RE-INSTATING JOHN TERRY AS CAPTAIN IS THE LAST STRAW – THE ITALIAN MUST GO

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BY JOHN GUBBA

FABIO CAPELLO may have been a successful club manager in Italy – but the England job is just too big for him. And the latest embarrassing saga of whether or not John Terry will replace the injured Rio Ferdinand as skipper is the last straw.

Capello's latest error of judgment has embrassed Rio Ferdinand

Capello’s latest error of judgment has embrassed Rio Ferdinand

The way Capello – who got it so hopelessly wrong at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa – has been manipulated by the media proves it is time for him to make way for Harry Redknapp, the outstanding English manager of his generation.

Even thinking about handing the captain’s armband back to John Terry on a permanent basis is a disgrace. But to chew the matter over with the press and appear to write off Ferdinand before he has discussed it with the player is shameful.

The England captaincy has become a big issue for Capello following February’s friendly against Denmark when Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Ashley Cole all wore the armband at different stages of the match because Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard were both out injured.

“I was really upset about what happened in Denmark, when I saw the players saying ‘who is the captain?’,” said Capello. “After one year of punishment, it was not the best moment for John Terry to see this. For that reason, I need to make a decision – and it will be a permanent decision, not just one game.”

Terry was stripped of the captaincy in February 2010 after reports surfaced that he had an affair with the former partner of England team-mate Wayne Bridge. Ferdinand, 32, was made captain. But has since made only four appearances for England and will miss the upcoming game against Wales because of problems with his back and calf.

Capello wants Terry back - how Daily Mail broke the story

Capello wants Terry back – how Daily Mail broke the story

Now it seems Capello has been persuaded to re-think his stance by “certain London-based media” close to the Chelsea skipper. England’s bungling boss revealed his thinking over an espresso in an Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge on Monday. His camp now insist no decision has been made but admit Terry is being considered.

He may be an experienced player. But Terry is past his best and has lost respect within the England team for a series of errors of judgement. World Cup skipper Steven Gerrard was undermined by Terry’s arrogant and ill-advised attempt to hold a players’ meeting to discuss their failings in South Africa.

Now Ferdinand has every right to be upset over the way Capello has managed the situation by floating his idea of re-instating Terry in public. It is not the first time the Italian has embarrassed one of his stars in this way. Last August he told the media David Beckham was finished as an England international and admitted in the same interview he had not even discussed it with the player.

Now it is time for the Football Association to tell Capello that he is finished. And the sooner the better.

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TREBLE CHANCE A LONG-SHOT: BUT NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WHEN FERGIE SMELLS BLOOD

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BY JOHN GUBBA

WHISPER it quietly around the Southern-biased media, but Manchester United are edging closer to a repeat of their famous Treble of 1999.

While certain sections of the media continue with their mindless obsession of looking for ways to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s relentless boss just keeps on driving his club forward in the quest for honours.

1999 re-visited: anti-Manchester United media will not stop Fergie's insatiable quest for silverware

1999 re-visited: anti-Manchester United media will not stop Fergie’s insatiable quest for silverware

The Reds will take some stopping now in the FA Cup after condemning Arsenal to their third Cup exit in 13 days. Even the prospect of a pivotal trip to the Emirates in the race for the Premier League is no major concern for the men from Old Trafford.

A bigger test for Fergie is how to avoid a lengthy touchline ban following his remarks about referee Martin Atkinson after last week’s controversial defeat by defending champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

There is no doubt the FA are under pressure from an anti-Manchester United media to dish out a severe punishment for the alleged improper conduct. But United’s boss will rightly fight his corner because he has “not said anything out of place.”

Arsene Wenger – also in the dock after his attack on the referee who disgracefully sent off Robin Van Persie in Barcelona – will never be subjected to the kind of venom directed at Sir Alex.

But Wenger’s underachievers are consistently put on a pedestal by the infatuated Southern media who seem to think the Gunners are the Premier League’s Barcelona.

Unlike Barca, Ars-elona have not won a trophy for six years. And United know they have the beating of their only realistic challenge for the title.

The most difficult leg of the Treble will of course be the Champions League where United are in good shape to overpower Marseille on Tuesday night after a goal-less first leg in France.

Barcelona – currently on a different level from every other team on the planet – are staking their claim to be hailed as the greatest football team in the history of the game.

Real Madrid also look formidable Spanish opposition in a twin threat from La Liga that the bookies are expecting to trump the best of British.

But as we all know, any team is beatable in football. And there is still time for United to find the form to match their latest merciless march towards silverware.

The odds are United are destined to fall short of repeating their remarkable feat of 1999. Manchester rivals City fancy their chances of halting the red machine in the FA Cup.

And yet there is something about Fergie and his insatiable desire to win everything that keeps United fans believing nothing is impossible.

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GOALS USED TO CHANGE GAMES – BUT NOW IT’S THE MATCH OFFICIALS. IT’S TIME FOR FIFA TO ACT

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BY JOHN GUBBA

BARCELONA totally outclassed Arsenal in both legs of their epic Champions League win. But the contest was effectively decided by a disgraceful red card for Robin Van Persie. It was a shameful, indefensible verdict by Swiss referee Massimo Busacca.

A week ago Manchester United made Premier League champions Chelsea look second rate until referee Martin Atkinson allowed the home side back into the game. The official invited allegations of corruption when he failed to punish John Terry’s blatant handball in the box and then gave a string of dubious decisions in Chelsea’s favour.

Technology must be used to combat referees and their assistants who are blind, corrupt or just plain incompetent

Technology must be used to combat referees and their assistants who are blind, corrupt or just plain incompetent

Four days later Arsenal were robbed of victory against Sunderland. Seething Arsene Wenger was right to be ‘disgusted’ by the two big decisions that went against Andrey Arshavin. The Russian was denied a clear penalty and a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.

Twenty four hours later Liverpool blitzed United 3-1. But referee Phil Dowd badly let Sir Alex Ferguson’s men down when he failed to send Jamie Carragher off for a shocking foul that put Nani out of the game. Once again it was the pivotal moment in a Big Match.

This is only the tip of iceberg. But it is a worrying trend that is undermining the integrity of the beautiful game. And what makes it worse is the governing bodies’ intolerance with managers who state the obvious.

How dare the FA charge Fergie with improper conduct for stating what every United fan watching the game was thinking when he stated: “It was a major game for both clubs and you want a fair referee. You want a strong referee anyway and we didn’t get that. I don’t know why he’s got the game. I must say that when I saw who was refereeing it, I feared the worst.”

The key fact here is that Atkinson’s incompetence has cost United successive defeats against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Alan Leighton, national secretary of the union representing match officials, demanded an apology from United’s boss for questioning the fairness of  United’s defeat by Chelsea. But how about the referees apologising to football fans of all clubs for their incompetence on a regular basis?

Bad refereeing decisions are ruining football, often cost managers their jobs and in the final analysis invariably have a say in who wins trophies and who gets relegated.

It is about time FIFA wake up and introduce the use of technology at our disposal in the 21st century. It is not acceptable in our modern high-tec society that the world watching on television – and the long-suffering fans in the stadium – instantly know when referees have messed up. But nothing can be done to challenge the officials’ decision.

Tennis and cricket have improved the drama and quality of their sports tenfold by adopting technology. Football can do the same.

Admittedly, sometimes there is no way you can challenge a decision as shocking as the one that saw Van Persie red carded tonight for attempting to score a goal when he was marginally offside.  But in the vast majority of cases justice can be done.

Tonight justice was done by default because Barcelona were so much more superior than the aggregate 4-3 scoreline suggests. Anything other than a Barca victory against an Arsenal team more shocking than the officials would have been a travesty. But poor refereeing casts a shadow over the Catalans’ passage to the quarter-finals.

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