The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has announced on June 25 that they will be dropping the ‘away goals’ rule from the European competition after 56 years.
From the next season, it will no longer be possible for a two-legged tie to be decided by tallying the number of goals each side has scored at the stadium of the other. Instead, if the second leg finishes with an aggregate draw, 30 minutes of extra time will be played, with penalties following after, if the tie continued. The change will apply across the men’s and women’s Champions League, the Europa League and the Europa Conference League.
This rule, discintended to encourage attacking play by visiting sides, has created a number of memorable moments in European football. In recent years Roma came back from a 4-1 away defeat in a Champions League quarter-final to knock out Barcelona with a 3-0 home win in 2018. The following year Tottenham went one better, reaching the final after they followed a 1-0 home defeat against Ajax with a 3-2 victory in Amsterdam.
The ‘away goals’ rule is a method of tiebreaking in association football and other sports when teams play each other twice, once at each team’s home ground. By the ‘away goals’ rule, the team that has scored more goals “away from home” wins, if the total goals scored by each team are otherwise equal. This is sometimes expressed by saying that away goals ‘count double’ in the event of a tie. However, in practice, the team with more away goals is simply recorded as the victor, rather than having additional or ‘double’ goals added to their total.
For instance, in the 2019 Champions League semifinals, Tottenham Hotspur lost the first leg at their home 1-0. However, they won the away match in Amsterdam 3-2. The tie was level at 3-3 but since Tottenham scored more goals away from home, they were declared winners.
Reason for the ‘away’ rule
There were two reasons for introducing this rule during the 1965-66 Cup Winners Cup: encourage teams to play attacking football away from home; and abolish playoff matches at a neutral venue, which led to logistical and scheduling problems.
The rule was first put into use during the second-round match of the Cup Winners Cup in November 1965 between Czech club Dukla Prague and Hungary’s Budapest Honved. The tie finished 4-4 and Honved advanced because they scored three goals away from home, one more than Dukla, who scored just two at Budapest.
The rule was enforced in the European Cup, now Champions League, in 1967 and has since then been applied at almost all football tournaments across the world.
Reason for its abolition
The UEFA now argues that there is no longer a case for weighting away goals more heavily than those scoring at home. It has come out with statistical evidence that there has been a reduction in home wins and goals in the club competitions they conduct over the last four decades.
The body said in a statement, “Statistics from the mid-1970s until now show a clear trend of continuous reduction in the gap between the number of home/away wins (from 61%/19% to 47%/30%) and the average number of goals per match scored at home/away (from 2.02/0.95 to 1.58/1.15) in men’s competitions.”
Among the factors, UEFA suggested for a decline in home advantage include higher security within grounds, increasingly standardized pitches and more comfortable travelling conditions for the away team journeying across the continent. Such a shift has occurred only in the men’s game but the women’s game is to lose the away goals rule, too.
The UEFA president, Alexander Ceferin, said the change had been called for by clubs who felt the away goals rule now puts home sides at a competitive disadvantage.
“The impact of the rule now runs counter to its original purpose as, in fact, it now dissuades home teams – especially in first legs – from attacking, because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage. There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.”