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Does a Barcelona Bias Exist?

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (2ndL) celebrates with Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar (L) and teammates after scoring during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Real Betis Balompie at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on December 30, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ PAU BARRENA / AFP / PAU BARRENA

Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Real Betis on Wednesday has become a controversial topic.

A penalty awarded to Barcelona set off a range of outrage and concerns: the fact that it was not a true penalty, that it unfairly positioned the Blaugrana ahead, and that it showed a bias toward both Lionel Messi and Barcelona.

The penalty was awarded after Messi collided with Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adán, bringing both of them down inside the box. If you watched, you might have noticed that a medical cart arrived on the scene, too, within about 15 seconds, to administer to Barca’s prize player.

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Referee Iñaki Bikandi Garrido showed a yellow card to Adán for the collision, amid a flurry of disgust and objection from Betis, and a penalty kick was awarded to Barcelona.

Neymar took the kick, slipped, and knocked it against the post. The ball rebounded and Heiko Westermann kicked it straight in the net to give Barca a 1-0 lead from an own goal.

Real Betis were furious. Betis manager Pepe Mel was ejected for protesting.

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Real Betis president Juan Carlos Ollero was equally en fuego, taking to Canal Sur Radio to vet his fury (h/t BeInSports), saying, “I felt a tremendous outrage at the time when the referee decided to draw a penalty, which nobody saw in the stadium or on television.

“I did not understand what could happen. Barcelona do not need these things.

“It was a penalty that influenced the game.”

Messi apparently recovered sufficiently to net a goal less than ten minutes later in the 33rd minute, followed by two truly beautiful feats of footwork from Luis Suarez in the 46th and 83rd minutes.

Look—I’m not a fan of Barcelona’s and I do not support bias shown toward to any team or player whether I support them or not. Such activities dilute the sport.

But here’s the thing.

The penalty is being called “a turning point” and “influential,” but I disagree. The score wasn’t even when it occurred, nor was it the do-or-die 91st minute–0r even the 75th. There was nothing about the own goal that made a difference to the legitimate and finely worked following three goals. Real Betis didn’t score at all, despite having wrath as an impetus to get it right, and the end result is the same.

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Betis would have you believe otherwise, with Pepe Mel saying after the match, “We were controlling the game pretty well. When the penalty came after half an hour the only chance had fallen to Dani Ceballos.”

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Additionally, Adán fell to the ground after the collision only after noticing that Messi was in obvious pain on the ground. And the Argentine is not a diver. Adán’s reaction was a little too delayed.

These two facts are enough to let this mistake go. It was a bad call, yes, but it stands because to do otherwise would call every result into question. In every professional, top-tier sport, officials make bad calls. If there are enough of them, league organizers must review.

On Thursday, the Spanish Football Federation’s disciplinary committee overturned the yellow against Adán. This is the appropriate response, since Adán does not need a yellow card on his record, but everything else still stands, including Pepe Mel’s ejection based on emotion (even though he said after the match that he hadn’t said or done anything to warrant being sent off; the photo above isn’t from this match, but I think it gives you a pretty good idea of his emotions on the sideline, yes? h/t ESPN)

The SFF’s response acknowledges that it was a poor call, but nothing more, and the reason behind the call could be anything. The match was not going to go in Betis’ favor. The time to squawk about bias is in closer matches where there is more obvious activity than simply a fast response to the star player being on the ground.

Watch for yourself:

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