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Do away goals count in the Champions League? The rule explained as AC Milan face Inter in the semi-finals

The Champions League has reached its semi-final stages, with Man City facing Real Madrid in the Bernabeu tonight.

While this may attract plenty of attention from English fans, the other fixture is just as enticing, as Milan face their city rivals Inter.

When they last met at this stage of the competition, in 2003, Milan won due to the away goals rule – despite both fixtures being played at their shared home stadium of San Siro.

Do away goals count in the Champions League?

There will not be a repeat of this quirk tonight, however – because the away goals rule was scrapped by Uefa ahead of last season’s competition.

This is also the case in the Europa League and Conference League, with the decision taken as a matter of “fairness” and to encourage more attacking football.

It means that two-legged ties that are level at the end of 180 minutes now enter an extra-time period of 30 minutes and, if there is still no winner, a penalty shootout.

It is likely that over time the rule change will lead to an increase in shootouts, which were something of a rarity during the away goals era.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 18, 2023 AC Milan's French defender Pierre Kalulu (C) controls the ball ahead of Inter Milan's German midfielder Robin Gosens (R) during the Italian SuperCup football match between AC Milan and Inter Milan, at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. - AC Milan defender Pierre Kalulu told AFP ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg clash with Inter at the San Siro that the derby is a match that "simply changes a season. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
AC Milan are facing Inter in the Champions League semi-finals (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Why was the away goals rule scrapped?

Alexander Ceferin, Uefa president, said: “The away goals rule has been an intrinsic part of Uefa competitions since it was introduced in 1965.

“However, the question of its abolition has been debated at various Uefa meetings over the last few years.”

He said that many stakeholders had “questioned its fairness and expressed a preference for the rule to be abolished”, adding: “The impact of the rule now runs counter to its original purpose as, in fact, it now dissuades home teams – especially in first legs – from attacking, because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.”

Uefa stated that the rule’s original purpose to give away teams a greater incentive to attack against hostile home crowds is now not as big a factor as it once was.

In the eight first legs of last year’s Champions League’s last 16, the first round to be played since away goals were scrapped, there were 12 goals scored by away teams but only two victories.

How did the away goals rule work?

Although one might often hear the phrase “away goals count double”, this isn’t technically how the rule works.

Instead, in two-legged knockout rounds, if the sides are level on goals after 180 minutes, the team which has scored more goals away from home qualifies for the next round.

So, if the two legs have ended in a 1-1 draw and a 2-2 draw – leaving the sides level on 3-3 – the side to progress will be the away team in the game which finished 2-2.

If the teams scored an equal number of away goals, then the match would continue into a period of extra-time comprising two 15-minute halves.

During extra-time, away goals counted in exactly the same way – so if both sides scored the same number of goals in the half-hour, the away team would progress.

Does the away goals rule apply in England?

In England, the away goals rule was introduced to the League Cup for the 1980-81 season. Until then all ties, even if played over two legs, would be replayed if the aggregate scores were level after 180 minutes.

However, both away goals and extra-time were abolished in the competition for the 2018-19 season, with all knock-out ties – including the semi-finals, the only round to be played across two legs – going straight to a penalty shoot-out if the scores are level.

The rule change meant that no domestic competition in England now employs the away goals rule.

FA Cup ties go to a replay in the event of a draw, and if the scores are level after 90 minutes in the rematch extra-time and then penalties are employed. The same is true if the EFL Cup semi-finals, which are played over two legs, finish level on aggregate.

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