… Sometimes, those of us who love and enjoy the game of soccer on all stages get upset and offended when those who either don’t like, or don’t understand, the sport gloss it as a theatre of unsportsmanlike cheaters who will dive or play-act at all costs to get their way.
Unfortunately, we must stand tonight and say – they’re right. Because sometimes, that’s exactly what our game is. And today was one of those days on various levels.
Start with Ivory Coast midfielder Kader Keita, whose juvenile play-acting will cost Brazil the services of Kaka in its final group match against Portugal. Keita, running straight at Kaka for some reason in the final minutes of Brazil’s 3-1 win, was felled by an apparent elbow or forearm from Kaka. It wasn’t the greatest idea from Kaka, but it wasn’t blatant, either.
Regardless, the elbow/forearm/what have you caught Keita in the chest. Keita, however, made like Rivaldo and crashed to the ground holding his face. It sparked a bit of a mild melee on the field, with referee Stéphane Lannoy assessing Kaka his second yellow and an early departure. Keita’s theatrics are an embarrassment to the game and far more worthy of punishment than Kaka’s foul. There’s no way for me to know if this is a continuation of a behavior pattern for Keita, but even if it’s a one-time thing, it’s too much. Actions like these shouldn’t just be scolded by fans and admonished by referees – they should be shamed by fellow players, as well. There was no professionalism whatsoever in Keita’s display, and it’s something his own teammates and his coach ought to find a disgrace.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand got a fantastic result, drawing Italy, 1-1. Italy’s goal came on a penalty kick in the first half, after midfielder Daniele De Rossi was allegedly taken down in the area by New Zealand’s Tommy Smith.
Now, it can be argued, probably successfully, that based on Smith’s shirt-tugging of De Rossi (which clearly occurred), that a penalty should have been called by referee Carlos Batres. But it was left for many to wonder how, based on the tugging, De Rossi could suddenly fall forward as if a grenade had just gone off behind him. The ball is just about unreachable to De Rossi before he begins his dive toward the ground. There was no way, whether he was being held or not, that he was getting to the ball as it was crossed in, it didn’t appear (though reasonable people can differ I suppose).
It’s these plays where the suspicion of diving and such raises its ugly head. It’s not that De Rossi wasn’t tugged. He clearly was. And by rule, that can be a penalty. Fine. But the sales act as or after the ball was gone is disheartening and calls into question De Rossi’s professionalism. In addition, however, it has to be noted that such incidents like those concocted by Keita and De Rossi are going to continue to happen as long as referees fall for the sham.
The stumble couldn’t derail New Zealand, however, and despite packing it in and defending 15 Italy corner kicks and 23 shots, while possessing the ball just 28% of the time, New Zealand got a result it needed and has everything in its own hands with regard to potential advancement to the last 16 – something no one would have thought possible when this tournament began. Some on Twitter, mainly non-soccer folks, questioned why New Zealand were celebrating a tie – saying that there were no such thing as moral victories. But this wasn’t about a moral victory. Compared to getting nothing and losing some goal differential, that single point is vital for New Zealand. And on the other hand, it’s further embarrassment for Italy, who given the opportunities they had, simply can’t afford to settle for its second come-from-behind draw in as many matches at this World Cup.
Off the field, the French decided that since they weren’t performing on game days, they didn’t need to practice, either. The team refused to train today in apparent protest of the forced departure of Nicolas Anelka following his bust-up with “head coach” Raymond Domenech. Video showed the team’s fitness coach Robert Duverne storming off the field in a temper tantrum like what you’d see from a 4-year-old who just got his woobie taken away. This followed a confrontation with player Patrice Evra. The team then decided not to train, and the side is in tatters ahead of Tuesday’s match against South Africa which will decide whether France reaches the last 16.
Of course, the only reason France is here is due to Thierry Henry’s Hand of Fraud goal against Ireland in the UEFA qualifying playoffs. Some have enjoyed the karma of France falling apart at this World Cup. I don’t know if it’s karma, but I know one thing, Ireland might not have gotten out of Group A, but they would have done their damndest to try. They would have played as professionals.
Which is nothing like what we’ve seen from France, or others, on this day.
* The day’s other game featured Paraguay putting a sound 2-0 beating on Slovakia. The win moves Paraguay to the top of Group F with 4 points, ahead of New Zealand and Italy (2 each) and Slovakia (1). New Zealand will try to achieve another piece of history against Paraguay at 10 a.m. Eastern Thursday, while Italy battles Slovakia. Were both matches to end in draws with the same score line, Paraguay would win the group and lots would be drawn between New Zealand and Italy to detrmine which team advances. Slovakia would be eliminated.
Tomorrow’s tripleheader looks like this:
Group G: Portugal vs. North Korea, 7:30 a.m.
Group H: Chile vs. Switzerland, 10 a.m.
Group H: Spain vs. Honduras, 2:30 p.m.
I’d love to read your comments below on what we saw today – there was no shortage of things to talk about, including the potential handball(s) not called on one of Luis Fabiano’s goals for Brazil in their victory today. If you have a thought on that, fire away.
Portugal 2-1 North Korea
Chile 1-1 Switzerland
Spain 4-0 Honduras
Today’s Record: 2-1.
Tournament Record: 13-16.