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The seemingly doomed Almeria
A Look at LaLiga

The seemingly doomed Almeria

There were the usual calls of conspiracy after the VAR calls worked 3-1 in favour of a giant against an underdog

Rob Palmer, Commentator ESPN

Friday, 26 January 2024, 13:09

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It was like an episode of Penn and Teller's American magic show when they enthrall you and then reveal what you had just witnessed was an illusion.

Rock-bottom Almeria, the only club in Europe's top leagues without a win this season, were beating the mighty Real Madrid, prompting Carlo Ancelotti to make drastic changes mid-game.

What followed next was pure theatre - so much so, it has dominated the sports pages and prompted heated discussion all week.

Real Madrid became the first team to benefit from three - yes, three - VAR decisions to go their way. "Disgrace" was the shout from the FC Barcelona president. The headlines screamed it was a "robbery" and an "embarrassment".

In the old days, Barcelona could have consulted the vice-president of referees. José María Enríquez Negreira was paid to assist with technical decisions with alleged fees of more than 8 million euros. The 'Caso Negreira' continues, but it didn't stop Barcelona having a good old whinge.

It's seemingly doomed Almeria, who have the biggest reason to protest. It's amazing that their coach Gaizka Garitano wasn't shown a red-card until the finale.

First, he witnessed the VAR suggest to the referee that he awarded a penalty for an incident when Real players were only appealing for a corner. A review handed them the first numbers of a winning lottery ticket; Jude Bellingham scored.

That was the opening illusion - three minutes later came the next one. Almería scored - the craziest of upsets was back on.

Match ref Hernández Maeso saw a goal, but he heard another whisper in his ear. Just before the magic occurred, there had been some misdirection. The Almeria player had used his arm like a wand to waft off Bellingham. When he saw the TV evidence, the goal was ruled out.

Next, it was a case of a magician having a trick up his sleeve. Vinícius Júnior has many talents - one he boasts about is being able to "shoulder" the ball better than most footballers can head it. A skill he claimed to have perfected on Copacabana beach.

The ref wasn't having this as the Brazilian appeared to "arm" the ball into the goal. That's what he thought he'd witnessed - until another traipse to the television monitor. "Yet another illusion," said his VAR colleague. The Real Madrid player clearly did use his shoulder, in his opinion.

There was yet another VAR intervention when Bellingham thought he'd scored a spectacular winner, only for the replays to show a colleague was offside in the build-up. It gave Bellingham a chance to practise his Spanish, but not with words that can be found on Duolingo. The Englishman eventually set up Dani Carvajal for the winning goal in the most dramatic of comebacks.

There were the usual calls of conspiracy, understandably so, after the VAR calls worked 3-1 in favour of a giant against an underdog with a result that keeps the title race active.

In the cold light of day, there was an explanation for each of the controversial decisions. All were a matter of opinion - alas, the opinion of the referee was overturned by the more senior VAR in every case.

The goals were just an illusion - the reality is that Real are still a point off the top of the table and Almería are doomed.

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