Smith claims ref "opted out" over penalty claim
Walter Smith launched a scathing attack on referee Jonas Eriksson, accusing him of "opting out'' of awarding Rangers a crucial penalty in their Champions League game against Sevilla.
The Ibrox boss insists Steven Naismith should have won a spot-kick late in the first half but the match official chose to ignore the claims in order to avoid showing Abdoulay Konko a red card.
The incident proved to be pivotal in the clash, as Konko went on to set the ball rolling on a 4-1 win, which saw Adriano, Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute also help themselves to a goal a apiece.
Nacho Novo did find the net late on for the Scottish champions but the goal was scant consolation for a side reeling from a sense of injustice at the hands of the Swedish official. "You could say it was a turning point,'' said Smith of the penalty claim.
"Certainly when we play against teams of the level of Sevilla in the Champions League, you need a set of circumstances to go with you and tonight they didn't. It was a vital decision for us in the first half. I felt for an hour of the game we played well and during that period we needed that little bit of a break and we didn't get it tonight.
"From where I was sitting it was clearly a penalty. But one of the problems that all referees have just now is that they have two decisions to make, because they obviously have to send the player off. That makes it awkward for the referee. Tonight he opted out of what was a very clear-cut decision. At Champions League level, you would expect a better decision from what was a fairly clear-cut circumstance.
"He was perfectly positioned. Referees have to make strong decisions at this level. You can say that anyone can make an error but that was a fairly clear-cut one and he was up with play and he did see it. He has opted out of the decision and for a referee at this level that is disappointing.''
Smith believes the build-up to the opening goal was also questionable, on a night where he felt the match officials clearly had a huge part to play on the outcome of the game. He said: "The Sevilla player clearly heads the ball out and, instead of giving a corner kick, they give a by-kick which is played up the pitch.
"Then they get a free-kick, which I didn't think was a free-kick, and from the free-kick they score the goal. Once we had to open up and play, Sevilla showed their quality. In the overall summing up, it was a strange game in the sense that had we managed to get that first goal, we could have acquitted ourselves in a better manner than we did do at the end.''
With Stuttgart and Unirea Urziceni battling out a 1-1 draw in the other Group G game, Smith predicts a scrap for points in their next two matches, both against the Romanian champions.
He said: "Sevilla were the favoured team before a ball was kicked and they have now got themselves into a good position, winning their first away game. With us getting a draw at Stuttgart, there will be a bit of fighting between the other teams to see who can finish in the favoured positions. The next two games will be vital matches.''
Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez refused to be drawn on the controversy, choosing instead to focus on what he believes was a triumphant night for his players. He said: "Normally I don't make a judgement on referees, I think they have the toughest job in football. How can they make both sides happy? It's a thankless task.
"I'm not going to make a judgement on that one. Maybe Capel might have had a slight chance of a penalty in the second half. But the refs have a tough job and it's not for me to say whether it was or wasn't a penalty. It was a great result, 4-1 away from home in the Champions League. I'm very happy. We knew that Rangers weren't going to make it easy for us and they didn't, especially in the first half.