Celta Vigo, the team often at the receiving end of VAR decisions, once again faced a painful defeat due to the technology in La Liga. Sid Lowe reports on their loss of points.


According to Newton’s Law, force is determined by multiplying mass and acceleration. However, it fails to mention the concept of penalties. Rafa Benítez believes that it should be included, especially after his team once again found themselves in the relegation zone. As fans whistled and waved white handkerchiefs, Benítez quickly flipped through Principia before heading to meet with the media. Instead of focusing on the referees, assistant referees, fourth official, video assistant referee, assistant to the video assistant referee (two of them), TV technician, supervisor, and whoever is hiding in the side room at Las Rozas, the Celta coach believes that a physicist is what they truly need. He suggests traveling to NASA to find the best one.

Anything would be an improvement from this. After Benítez had repeatedly stated that his team would continue pushing forward, despite being constantly hindered, and before the biggest newspaper in the city labeled them as the scapegoats of Spanish football, simply there to be battered, he expressed his frustration that this was a recurring issue. The fans would likely concur, although not solely for the reasons given by Benítez. “Once again, we are discussing our strong performance and numerous opportunities,” Benítez lamented on Saturday as they made their way home through the bad weather. “Yet, we were unable to secure three points.”

For the initial time in seven weeks and just the second time all season, they believed they were going to succeed, only to have their hopes dashed once again. On a rainy and turbulent evening that began with demonstrations and would conclude with their own, Celta was given something to rejoice in – a chance to turn things around. However, it only lasted for three minutes and thirty-five seconds; the repercussions would last much longer. In the end, it was Sevilla who were rescued, and as it would later be revealed, this was not the first time.

Celta was leading against Sevilla, who were the stronger team until Yousuf En Nesyri scored a goal in the eighty-fourth minute, resulting in a 1-1 tie at Balaídos. This left Celta in danger of facing another painful defeat. However, they were relieved when Ivan Rakitic’s shot missed on 91.04 and Adrià Pedrosa failed to score on 92.26. Despite being down to 10 players, they were able to hold onto a decent draw, with Balaídos whistling for the end and cheering when goalkeeper Vicente Guaita caught a cross at 95.15 of 96. But then, something even better happened: they were awarded a penalty with only five seconds remaining.

Renato Tapia is shown a red card in the draw with Sevilla.

A pass from the right flew over Tasos Douvikas’s head, and as he fell to the ground, the referee Alejandro Hernández Hernández signaled for a penalty. The players on the bench and in the stadium erupted in celebration and embraced each other. Carlos Dotor, who had delivered the pass, spun around and raised his fist in the air. Unai Núñez held onto Douvakis tightly. Although there was a chance they could miss, this was their opportunity to secure their first home win of the season and move out of the relegation zone. It may have been a bit fortunate and silly, but Jesús Navas had pulled on Douvikas’s arm, possibly causing him to stumble, and Hernández Hernández had no doubt it was a penalty as he stood in the rain.

In a small room in Las Rozas, located 551km south-east, Eduardo Prieto Iglesias was present. A conversation took place and a couple of minutes passed before Hernández Hernández attempted to approach the screen, while facing obstacles from the players. Celta captain Iago Aspas stood up from the bench to join them, where he had been watching the game on an iPad. A group of people gathered around Aspas, trying to catch a glimpse of the screen with the same intensity as fans watching a penalty from a pub window. The images on the screen were paused, played, slowed down, and frozen. Finally, at 99.30, the referee declared that there was no penalty after all.

Furious and frustrated, Aspas gestured for his teammates to leave the field. He forcefully threw the VAR screen to the ground, standing up for what is just, despite knowing he would face consequences for his actions. The next day, he apologized, but made it clear that it was unacceptable to push a player, but also to damage the equipment. Manager Benítez silently expressed his disbelief and disapproval, glaring at the three officials as they left the field. In the stands, the crowd began chanting “Hands up, this is a robbery!” Over in the PA booth, someone played a Raphael CD and soon the fans were dancing along to the song “Escándalo.” Sevilla winger Lucas Ocampos acknowledged the fans’ frustration, saying “I can understand why they’re upset.”

Upon arriving in the press room, Benítez wasted no time in giving his first answer before any questions were asked. He then delved into the topic at hand, discussing the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration, which is measured in Newtons. He openly admitted that he was unsure of the exact amount of force needed for a player to fall to the ground, and suggested consulting a physicist to determine the specifics. He even proposed bringing a physicist into the VAR room to assist with this. In jest, he mentioned that they could even reach out to Nasa for a physicist. When a reporter commented on his sense of humor, Benítez clarified that it was not meant as a joke, but rather a display of resignation.

Aspas expressed frustration, stating that it feels like every time they try to make progress, they are knocked back down. This has happened repeatedly over the course of 12 weeks, with seven games not going their way. He questions how a referee can accurately judge the intensity of a tug after already making a decision, and wonders what the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will see. He also mentions that with all the decisions that have gone against them, they should be in a much better position in the league standings.

It was a close call, but Celta has experienced disallowed goals against Mallorca, Real Madrid, Las Palmas, and Girona. The decision made at Montilivi last week was especially ridiculous, and in Mallorca, Benítez was shocked by the lack of goal-line technology. Two weeks ago, Celta sent a group to Madrid to speak with the head of the referees and politely inquire about the situation, as the coach described it. On Saturday, there were early protests, with signs demanding respect. And in the 99th minute, this happened.

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Rafa Benítez on the touchline

However, if referees are used as a source of comfort, an excuse, and a scapegoat, they fail to provide a fully convincing explanation for Celta’s current situation. It is possible that they are avoiding addressing deeper issues within the club, such as barely surviving last season, selling their top young player, having a sporting director who also works for PSG, making six signings in the summer but not filling a key position in midfield. This is a club where Aspas, who is vital in many roles including being a former youth player, leader, captain, potential future sporting director, and the one responsible for rescuing them on multiple occasions, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the lack of talent. Additionally, even at 36 years old, he cannot continue carrying the team forever.

Celta has performed better than their results indicate, as has Aspas. He has generated the most chances and taken only four shots less than Iñaki Williams, who is currently leading in shots. Celta is ranked fourth in terms of number of opportunities created, behind Barcelona, Madrid, and Sevilla. They are also among the top seven teams in terms of number of shots taken. They have only been defeated by more than one goal twice. In their 3-0 loss to Atlético, they had more shots, and in their 2-2 draw with Getafe, the tally showed 26-3. The only goals Madrid scored against them were from a Bellingham goal, and they were leading 2-0 against Barcelona with eight minutes remaining.

However, they were defeated in the game with a score of 3-2 due to two late goals at the 81st and 97th minute against Las Palmas, and a 91st minute goal against Girona, who are currently the league leaders. It is becoming a pattern for them to lose momentum after an hour of play, and their overall record for the season is not impressive as they have only won once against Almería. Despite having numerous opportunities, they have only scored fewer goals than Las Palmas, Cádiz, and Alavés. In addition, their top scorer for the past eight years, Aspas, has had impressive totals of 18, 26, 23, 21, 14, 14, 18, and 12 goals each year, but surprisingly, he has not scored a single goal since March. This may seem temporary, but their current standing in the league is far from ideal as they are 18 points and 14 places away from the Champions League positions and are currently at risk of being relegated. These numbers are more concerning than Newton’s laws or even Nasa’s calculations.

Additionally, if that situation was unfavorable, a similar injustice occurred 18km away at Peinador Airport, only this time it was much worse. A bureaucrat, hidden away in an office, once again saved Sevilla from a bad decision. This time, Diego Alonso’s team encountered a technical issue with their aircraft upon arrival and were unable to fly. As a result, Air Nostrum cancelled their flight and instead used it for a trip to Madrid with the football players on board. The original passengers were left stranded in Galicia, while Celta’s opponents returned home with someone else’s plane and victory. The passengers not only missed out on a penalty, but they also had their entire flight taken away from them.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Girona 12 14 31
2 Real Madrid 12 15 29
3 Barcelona 12 12 27
4 Atletico Madrid 11 15 25
5 Athletic Bilbao 12 7 21
6 Real Betis 12 1 20
7 Real Sociedad 12 5 19
8 Valencia 12 2 18
9 Rayo Vallecano 12 -1 18
10 Las Palmas 12 -1 17
11 Osasuna 12 -6 13
12 Getafe 11 -3 12
13 Villarreal 12 -4 12
14 Alaves 12 -6 12
15 Sevilla 11 1 11
16 Cadiz 11 -6 10
17 Mallorca 12 -6 9
18 Celta Vigo 12 -9 7
19 Granada 12 -12 6
20 Almeria 12 -18 3

Source: theguardian.com