The dust is settling on Borussia Dortmund’s 1-1 draw with VfL Bochum last night, and everyone has had a chance to weigh in on the biggest moment of the match, Danilo Soares’s heavy-handed tackle on Karim Adeyemi, in the second half, which was, remarkably, not awarded as a penalty.
It seemed like an obvious penalty to just about anyone watching, and yet the referee, Sascha Stegemann, didn’t make the call. Not only that, VAR didn’t step in to tell him to take another look. The whole passage of officiating seems bizarre, and there’s a very real possibility that the failure to give the penalty could have a decisive impact on the Bundesliga title race. Bayern Munich host bottom-of-the-table Hertha Berlin tomorrow, at the Allianz Arena, and three points would put them back in charge of the Meisterschale race.
Understandably, there are plenty of people that feel pretty aggrieved by what happened.
Edin Terzic was clearly not happy about the call, nor the refereeing throughout the game:
I have the biggest respect for referees but I don’t understand how you can’t go to the review area. I told him I apologized for my tone but I can’t accept those decisions tonight.
Winning the league for Dortmund? "A once in a lifetime opportunity"— Archie Rhind-Tutt (@archiert1) April 29, 2023
Key decisions? "Why are we using the VAR?"
Edin Terzic's reaction to BVB's 1-1 draw at Bochum last night on @ESPNFC. pic.twitter.com/Enepo87wgK
It was clear that Terzic wasn’t alone in these sentiments. The players were clearly irate after the game, and you could see Jude Bellingham having what looked like some pretty stern words with the referee, Sascha Stegemann. Gregor Kobel summed things up in his post-match interview.
"Of course it's a setback."— Archie Rhind-Tutt (@archiert1) April 29, 2023
Dortmund's Gregor Kobel also on the way the game was handled by referee Sascha Stegemann: "He gives the game a certain energy." @ESPNFC pic.twitter.com/HDLoYKsKWa
Outside of a small handful of folks that are just eager to take the contrarian position and show how very clever they are, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone arguing it was any less than a blatant penalty. I often tend to take a more lenient view of rough-play on the pitch than most fans, and even I was absolutely certain that it should have been called as a penalty.
Well, the DFB referee committee have weighed in, confirming that it should have been a penalty.
Statement from DFB referee committee:— BVB Newsblog (@bvbnewsblog) April 29, 2023
"The Bochum player does not play the ball. Instead, he only hits the opponent and brings him down. That is a foul and therefore a penalty kick, as the TV pictures also prove."#BVB
And to further compound things, Sascha Stegemann, the referee that got the call wrong, has even come out and said that his decision was incorrect.
Sascha Stegemann:— BVB Newsblog (@bvbnewsblog) April 29, 2023
"After looking at it, it is a penalty kick in the situation with Adeyemi for BVB. However, I didn't see it that way at all on the pitch. The defender had a lot of pace and I was sure Adeyemi had put his leg in."
So if anyone was in need of any validation, there you have it. The referee committee and the match referee have confirmed that it was an error. Ultimately, these statements don’t make a blind bit of difference about the outcome. BVB are still at risk of losing their spot at the top of the table, in some part due to a referee missing a massive call. Yes, they should have seen the game away without the penalty, but when such a significant call is botched like that, it’s hard not to feel hard done by!
The Blame Lies With VAR
However, I’ve seen a lot of vitriol aimed at the referee, Sascha Stegemann, and I think some (most?) of that is misplaced. Take the following quote from Stegemann’s statement, after the game:
In retrospect, I have to say: I would have been glad if I had looked at it again. Of course, my aim is to decide everything correctly directly on the pitch, to resolve situations correctly, and then in the end also together with the video assistant. I’m very annoyed, I feel like shit. It was a very, very short night, I don’t feel good about it.
It’s clear that Stegemann is in absolutely no doubt about the call he made. It was wrong, and if he had been given an opportunity to take another look, he would have given the penalty. But he didn’t get an opportunity to take another look at the play, did he? And that is where I think the blame lies. What on earth was the video assistant doing? How have they looked at the replay and come to the conclusion that the referee shouldn’t at least take another look too?
I can totally understand why fans are frustrated with Stegemann. He is clearly unhappy with his performance and the impact he had on the game too. Personally, I didn’t have any great issues with his performance outside of this call. It was pretty physical, and there were a couple calls that could have gone the other way (the shove on Can in the buildup for Bochum’s goal, for example), but I don’t think there were many egregious calls outside of this penalty blunder.
That said, I think directing all of your ire his way is missing the real culprit here. Referees are only human. They get one shot at making the right call, in the heat of the moment, and they only get to see one angle of the play they are trying to adjudicate. Mistakes will happen (and that’s all it was, it isn’t a conspiracy theory, grow up). It doesn’t change that they are incredibly frustrating when it goes against your team, but the fact is that referees are never going to get everything right. That is why VAR exists. Stegemann has been hung out to dry by VAR not telling him to take another look at what was a blatant penalty. The fault lies with the complete failure of the system that is designed to help referees correct what are obvious mistakes. Stegemann made an obvious mistake last night, something he (and the league) has readily admitted since, and VAR failed to give him the chance to correct that mistake.
That decision now has the potential to have a decisive impact on outcomes at both ends of the table. VAR could (and should) have avoided this.
Why didn’t VAR tell Stegemann to review the call? Will this end up being a decisive factor in this season’s title race?