Club Brugge’s celebrations highlight Pointlessness of Group Stages
It was the 92nd minute. Club Brugge were heading for a Champions League defeat in Turkey. Then Krepin Diatta stepped up, a stoppage-time equaliser, and after two red cards – to Diatta and Clinton Lourenco during the celebrations – and five more minutes of time, the Belgians would be taking a point. Cue the celebrations from the visitors, playing hugging each other, they had their fate in their own hands going into Matchday Six.
But it’s not their fate of qualifying for the next round, but rather dropping into the next round of the Europa League. The celebrations were of the fact they were on the cusp of the Last 32 in the secondary European competition, as they lie a point ahead of Galatasaray who go to Paris St. Germain in two weeks. But does it really mean anything?
This isn’t to begrudge or put a dampener on Brugge’s celebrations (maybe it is), it’s the way the competition is set; the group stage seedings was always going to put two bigger and richer sides in any group in which they fell, and as such, Europa League demotion was the best they could get. This was the hand with which they’ve been dealt, and they seem to have played it well. But what happens when the third European competition comes into place in 2021, when demotion to the Europa League becomes outlawed; what then? Salvaging a draw at Galatasaray won’t mean sod all.
And that just about highlights the pointlessness of the group stage. Yes, they say the group stage still produces exciting football, and perhaps that’s a fair assessment, but it really doesn’t mean that much. Ultimately, after four months and 96 games, the 16 teams that will be left are more or less predictable.
That’s when the Champions League truly gets going, when the jeopardy comes, and the fixtures have a fatal feel to them. Where PSG can boss 180 minutes of football and yet get knocked out thanks to a late penalty. Jeopardy. Unlike the group stages, where a ‘big’ side can afford to slack off for three games and still go through. The whole thing does rather have a lifeless feel to it, and you just have to wonder what the point is.
So, why not just revert to having it as knock-out football, from the first round to the very end. Isn’t that better? The sense of jeopardy surely makes it more intriguing. Where Club Brugge’s celebrations can truly mean something other than the ‘redemption’ or ‘consolation’ of European football. Where it can feel like an elite competition in the manner in which it happens, not elite because the big boys can waltz in and dance through until it’s time to take things seriously in February.
Many will find faults with this notion, and it won’t sit right with them. If you’re one of those people, ask yourself; why do you get interested in supposed groups of death? Because of an increased sense of jeopardy in a stage where there barely is one?
Kunle Ajao121 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not