fc porto 2-1 arsenal

Sol impresses back in the limelight

February 17, 2010
By Harry Harris, Football Correspondent
(Archive)

Sol Campbell was at the centre of the most amazing events in this Champions League tie on a bittersweet night in Porto for the centre-half.

Sol Campbell heads Arsenal on level terms
GettyImagesSol Campbell heads Arsenal on level terms

• FC Porto 2-1 Arsenal
• Wenger slams ''massive mistake''

If his equaliser wasn't incredible enough, considering it came three-and-a-half years after his last Champions League appearance - and goal - for the Gunners, Porto's second was even more remarkable. That's if it wasn't so horrific, even comical, for the north London team.

So, should it have been allowed? Arsene Wenger thinks not. Francesc Fabregas confessed he would have done the same thing and taken the free-kick quickly. I seem to recall Thierry Henry would often take a quick free-kick when no one was ready, and Arsenal never complained about that.

Campbell's short backpass was picked up by Polish keeper Lukasz Fabianski - who had already conceded an own goal - and he nervously picked it up when he should have just cleared it.

Yes, it was a backpass, which the referee quite rightly awarded. Wenger's point is that the ball struck Campbell rather than it being intentional. There he might have a point, but only when studying the replay carefully.

Referee Martin Hansson demanded that the unfortunate keeper gave him the ball back immediately while Campbell was in a state of shock. You would think that Campbell was entitled to believe that the ref would allow Arsenal to regroup before blowing his whistle to re-start the game. Yet, he was not paying attention and should have put his body front of the ball regardless.

Instead Porto took the free-kick quickly and so were gifted the winner on the night and control of the tie.

Wenger was quite rightly furious, and engaged in an angry exchange with a referee most famous for missing Henry's handball for France which knocked the Republic of Ireland out of the World Cup play-offs.

Should Campbell take the blame? Should he have stood in the way of the free-kick? Yes, but he was taken by surprise by the ref refusing to allow the keeper to hold onto the ball - Fabianski was right to at least try and delay the free-kick - even if it risked a yellow card.

With all his vast experience, you would expect Campbell to be more alert. Yet, on balance, I wouldn't blame him, and Wenger didn't either.

Campbell suffered a torrid start as Porto threw everything at a Gunners' makeshift defence. Campbell made a remarkable recovery tackle early on, and then his goal was just fantasy football becoming reality.

Arsenal were spineless without so many key players in the heart of their team, but certainly not Sol-less.

Sol Campbell celebrates after heading in the equaliser
APSol Campbell celebrates after heading in the equaliser

I cannot be so generous to Fabianski who had a complete nightmare after conceding an own goal so early in the game, spilling a routine cross by Varela over his own line.

All that's left for Campbell is to make his England comeback. It can't be true? Well, so far the Sol Man is confounding his critics.

Signing up Campbell was purely an insurance policy in case of injury to a key central defender, and who would have thought William Gallas would be ruled out for such a vital Champions League tie?

Step up Sol, after an FA Cup tie at Stoke and a bit part from the bench since his return to Arsenal's colours. Yet, there he was scoring in consecutive Champions League ties for the Gunners - three-and-a-half years apart. His last Champions League game was the final itself in Paris when he scored with another header against Barcelona. Another header in Portugal provides Wenger with such a precious away goal.

Soccernet's Editor must know something, as he put me on Geriatric Watch this week, first analysing the performance of David Beckham, facing his old club Manchester United for the first time since he left Old Trafford seven years ago. Beckham might not have sparkled, but did enough to suggest he was worth his place, not just in the Milan team, but in Fabio Capello's England squad.

As part of a squad, Campbell might even be considered by Capello.

Just like Beckham the day before, time takes its toll, and there's no longer a lightning burst of speed. But his reading of the game, and his vast experience, is making up for that lack of half a yard in pace. The only blemish was his part in the pantomime second goal, worse than the farcical first.

Campbell has regained his passion and desire, and now has another chance at the highest level.