At the end of a brief list of the highlights of what has been a long, distinguished refereeing career — his appointments in European Championships and World Cups, his distinctions in officiating Olympic and Champions League finals — Kassai’s electronic assailant decided a postscript was needed.
“At the end of the game, Florentino Perez, the president of the Madrid team, awarded him a diamond pin, the greatest honor the club offers to referees who help them in big games,” the passage concluded. There followed a brief, bitter explanation for the malicious edit. “And that is how I lost my bet.”
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It is a shame indeed that, at the end of one of the most absorbing games in recent Champions League history — won by Real, 4-2, after extra time — the performance of the referee should attract such attention.
In an ideal world, it would warrant no mention whatsoever. Kassai would be afforded the anonymity that in his chosen profession indicates excellence. The focus would instead rest solely on those players who had produced a game of the very highest quality, two hours of grueling, enthralling, breathless entertainment between two of soccer’s true heavyweights.
All of the questions directed at Zinedine Zidane, the victorious Real Madrid coach, in the immediate aftermath would have been about the brilliant ruthlessness of Cristiano Ronaldo, whose hat trick eventually finished off Bayern; about the energy of Marcelo, Real’s unstinting fullback; about the poise and panache of Toni Kroos.
Zidane would have been asked about Real’s seventh straight visit to the semifinals in this competition, about the chances of the club that lionizes the Champions League more than any other would become the first to retain it since its reinvention in 1992.
His counterpart, Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, would have been given the chance to pay tribute to his Bayern team’s refusal to be beaten, and forced to consider whether this defeat represented something close to the end of an era. Philipp Lahm, his captain, will never play in the Champions League again; neither will Xabi Alonso, one of the finest players of his generation. Both have said that they will retire this summer. The likes of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben will, sadly, not be too far behind.
Kassai, though, obscured all of that Tuesday, denied the game the epilogue it deserved. With one exception, all of the questions Ancelotti faced were about the performance of the Hungarian referee. Ancelotti is a good-humored man, not given to unnecessary exaggeration. When asked if he had spoken to Kassai after the game, if he had made his unhappiness known, he simply cocked an eyebrow. “I told him ‘good job,’” he said.
His fury, though, was evident. The red card that saw Bayern deprived of Arturo Vidal for extra time — arguably the game’s pivotal moment — was not “a foul,” Ancelotti said. Two of Ronaldo’s three goals were offside, he said.
He might have added that Robert Lewandowski lost a clear run at goal when he was adjudged, incorrectly, to be offside; that Casemiro, the Real Madrid midfielder, might have been sent off long before Vidal was. It was no surprise that Ancelotti declined to mention that Bayern’s first goal, a penalty, was, at best, debatable, or to expand on Zidane’s claim that Bayern’s second goal stemmed from another offside.
He did not need to, though, to prove his point that “the decisions penalized Bayern a lot.”
“In a quarterfinal, there has to be a referee with more quality,” he said. “They are trying, but it is the moment to bring in video referees. There are too many errors. In some decisions, there is a lot of doubt, but there was no doubt here. You did not need to see a video to see that Vidal got the ball. I saw it straightaway.”
He was not the only one simmering with anger. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern’s chief executive, said Kassai had left the German champions “distraught.” Claudio Bravo, the Manchester City goalkeeper and an international teammate of Vidal’s, pointed out that — although there were six officials on the field, per UEFA’s regulations — they all appeared to be “blind.”