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The away goals rule is a method of breaking ties in association football and other sports when teams play each other twice, once at each team's home ground. By the away goals rule, the team that has scored more goals "away from home" will win if scores are otherwise tied. This is sometimes expressed by saying that away goals (or at least one of them) "count double" in the event of a tie.

The away-goals rule is most often invoked in two-legged fixtures, where the initial result is determined by the aggregate score — i.e. the scores of both games are added together. In many competitions, the away goals rule is the first tie-breaker for such cases, with a penalty shootout as the second tie-breaker if each team has scored the same number of away goals. Rules vary as to whether the away goals rule applies at the end of normal time of the second leg, after extra time, or both.

The away goals rule is intended to encourage the away team to be more aggressive. In football, at least, it often leads to a nervous first leg; the home team is unwilling to commit large numbers of players in attack lest they concede a goal, whilst the away team attempts to defend and snatch an away goal to aid them in the second leg. Such tactics arguably make the second leg more exciting, after a low-scoring first leg leaves both sides with a chance to win. There is some debate over whether the away goals rule creates an unfair advantage in playing away first, followed by at home — with the other team squandering their home advantage in the first leg due to away goal fears — and this may be a factor in its somewhat patchy adoption for competitions. Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that most teams feel an away goal puts them in the driving seat.

Usage

The away goals rule is applied in many football competitions that involve two-legged fixtures, including the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup, and any two-legged playoffs used in qualification for the FIFA World Cup or European Championships.

Not all competitions use the away goals rule. For example, before 2005, CONMEBOL used neither the away goals rule nor extra time in any of its competitions, such as the Copa Libertadores. Ties that were level on aggregate went to an immediate penalty shootout. The away goals rule (without extra time) was introduced to the Copa Libertadores in 2005. In Latin America, an example of a tournament that always has used this rule is Copa do Brasil (Brazilian Cup).

In English football, two-legged fixtures in the League Cup are only subject to the away goals rule after extra time; if teams are level on aggregate after 90 minutes of the second leg, extra time is played regardless of whether one team leads on away goals.

The semi-finals of the promotion playoffs in the Football League, despite being two-legged, ceased to employ the away goals rule from 2000. As away goals scored in extra time counted double, the side finishing lower in the league gained an advantage by playing away in the 2nd leg, thus giving them 30 more minutes to score an away goal. The rescinding of the away goals rule has affected the results of several play-off semi-finals.

The away goals rule is sometimes used in round robin competitions (i.e. league or qualifying groups), where it may be used to break ties involving more than two teams. For example, away goals are the sixth tiebreaker in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and the third tiebreaker in the group stage of both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup. In Group C of the UEFA Champions League 2000–01, Olympique Lyonnais took the second qualifying spot ahead of Olympiacos on away goals. Because other tiebreakers take precedence, the away goals rule is rarely invoked in such tournaments. In many group tournaments, the away goals rule is never applicable; for example, in World Cup qualification.

The away goals rule was first applied in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup when Budapest Honvéd FC beat Dukla Prague in the second round in 1965–6. It was introduced in the Fairs Cup in 1966–7, and in the European Cup in 1967–8 for the first round, 1968–9 for the second round, and 1970–71 for later rounds. Previously, ties level on aggregate had gone to a playoff on neutral ground.

Anomalies

If the two clubs contesting a two-legged fixture share the same stadium, each club may be the home club in one leg, and the rule may still apply. For example, the 2003 UEFA Champions League Semi-finals drew Inter Milan and A.C. Milan. Both legs were played at the San Siromarker, their shared stadium:
  • First leg: A.C. Milan 0–0 Inter Milan
  • Second leg: Inter Milan 1–1 A.C. Milan
With an aggregate of 1–1, A.C. Milan was declared the winner because they were the "away" side in the second game. In this example, as in many such cases, most tickets to each leg will be reserved for the "home" side's fans, so the designation is not simply arbitrary. However, not all competitions bearing the Away Goals Rule suffer from this anomaly: Copa do Brasil (or the Brazilian Cup) has built its rules seeking to evade some anomalies, one of which being the aforementioned. In the Cup, if two teams share either the same stadium or the same hometown, neither is considered the home club and thus the Away Goals Rule does not apply to neither one of the two specific legs involving those teams.

More anomalous was a qualification play-off for the 1991 World Youth Championship between Australia and Israel: Australia won on away goals even though, due to security concerns arising from the First Intifada, Israel's "home" leg was played in Australia. The same situation occurred for the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification tie between the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands, where the Bahamas advanced on the away goals rule even though both legs were played in the Bahamas.

There has been at least one case of a wrong application of the away goals rule by a referee in an international club tournament. It happened during the second-round tie in the 1971–72 European Cup Winners' Cup between Rangers and Sporting CP. This fixture had the following scorelines:
  • First leg: Rangers 3–2 Sporting
  • Second leg, after 90 minutes: Sporting 3–2 Rangers
  • Second leg, after extra time: Sporting 4–3 Rangers
Since the teams were now level 6–6 on aggregate, the referee ordered a penalty shootout, which Sporting won 3–0. However, Rangers appealed the loss on the grounds that the referee should not have ordered the shootout, since the Rangers goal in extra time in Lisbon gave them a lead of 3 away goals to 2. Rangers won the appeal and went on to win the Cup Winners' Cup that season.

It must be noted that the above result is due specifically to UEFA rules regarding the use of away goals. CONCACAF has a different rule for its CONCACAF Champions League, employing away goals at the end of full time of the second leg, but not applying the rule at the end of extra time. For example, the semifinal of the 2008–09 CONCACAF Champions League between Cruz Azul and the Puerto Rico Islanders had the following scorelines:
  • First leg: Puerto Rico Islanders 2–0 Cruz Azul
  • Second leg, after 90 minutes: Cruz Azul 2–0 Puerto Rico Islanders
  • Second leg, after extra time: Cruz Azul 3–1 Puerto Rico Islanders
Under UEFA rules, the Puerto Rico Islanders would have advanced. However, because CONCACAF does not apply the away goals rule a second time, the tie went to a shootout, which Cruz Azul won 4–2.

References

  1. For example:
  2. For example, after a 1-1 draw away from home:
  3. Regulations, 2006 FIFA World Cup, page 6: "In the league system the ranking in each group is determined as follows: :(a) greater number of points obtained in all the group matches; If two or more teams are equal on the basis of the above criterion, their ranking shall be determined as follows: :(b) greater number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned; :(c) goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned; :(d) greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the teams concerned; :(e) goal difference in all the group matches; :(f) greater number of goals scored in all the group matches; :(g) a play-off on neutral ground."
  4. Oceania U-20 World Cup 1991 Qualifiers
  5. Bermuda and Bahamas march on, FIFA.com



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