Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Diplomacy & Delusion

A random assortment of thoughts on the World Cup:

• In his post concerning England's defeat last night, Avi went out of his way to criticize myself and others for our take on the World Cup Quarter-Final between England & Portugal. Apparently, those of us who felt that Wayne Rooney was unjustly banished from the pitch are making excuses for the poor lad. Yet, while I understand Avi's devastation, I feel that it has clouded his normally lucid judgment. Avi has indeed given some excellent examples of Rooney's previous mistakes, but the problem is that he does not counter them with an in-depth look at the Portuguese side, and their previous behaviour. Nor does he look at the events which occurred during the match. Let's recap:

a) In their previous match against the Netherlands, Portugal had engaged in some of the worst forms of simulation and unsportsmanlike play that the world has ever seen. 16 yellow cards, and 4 red cards were given out during the match. That red card number should have in fact been 5, as Greg Louganis wannabe Luis Figo got away with a intentional head butt to the face of a Dutch player. Both sides played hard, but from my viewpoint it was the Portuguese who should have carried the majority of blame. They had already won a game against Iran in the qualifying round by diving in the penalty box and receiving a penalty kick, and they carried on their antics against the Dutch. Furthermore, whenever the referee made a call against them, they would swarm around him and make stereotypical gesticulations that would even make an Italian soccer player cringe in shame.

b) As a result of their shenanigans against the Dutch, two Portuguese players did not play against England. It should have been three, but Luis Figo--through the existence of the most arcane rule known to man--was allowed to play, despite his outlandish head butt on the Dutch player.

c) Before the crotch-stepping, pushing or any of that mess, Rooney had been fighting off two aggressive Portugese attackers, and had remained on his feet. I agree with him 100% when he says, "If anything I feel we should have had a free kick for the fouls committed on me during the same incident." I also agree 100% with his statement that, "From what I've seen in the World Cup, most players would have gone to ground at the slightest contact but my only thought then was to keep possession for England."

d) Yes, Rooney did put his foot down on Ricardo Carvalho's groin. But I fail to see how it could have been avoided, as Carvalho was tucked on the ground underneath Rooney. It is clear that Rooney was merely attempting to hold his balance. It is the same thing any of us would have done. As Rooney says, ""I want to say absolutely categorically I did not intentionally put my foot down on Ricardo Carvalho. He slid in from behind me and unfortunately ended up in a position where my foot was inevitably going to end up as I kept my balance. That's all there was to it."

e) After the step on Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, in typical Portuguese fashion, went over and started complaining to the referee. He had no business even interacting with the ref, as the play was not on him, and he is not the team captain. Annoyed by all of this, Rooney gave Ronaldo a slight "get away" push. It was so harmless that even the normally tottering Ronaldo did not fall to the ground.

f) The red card was given after the push, although the referee now claims that it was given as a result of Rooney stepping on the Carvalho's groin. Since one play was an accident, and the other was provoked and completely harmless, the red card never should have been given.

g) Walking away from the scene, Ronaldo gave a wink over to his bench-boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, who apparently used to be sent off from games in Brazil for his excessive complaining to the referees. Shocker. The wink indicates, at least to me, that Ronaldo was intentionally attempting to provoke the English. More likely, since he plays on Man U and would know of his temper, he was attempting to provocate Rooney. Now granted, this supports Avi's ideas about Rooney. But I never meant to discard his idea so much as balance it by looking at how the Portuguese play.

My problem isn't so much that Rooney got thrown out, although I do think it was unjust. My greater problem lies with the fact that the Portuguese engage in terribly unsportsmanlike play that places a black eye on the "beautiful game" of soccer. They should be punished way more often than they are. Their actions are intentional, and egregious. For Avi and others to place the blame solely on Rooney is irresponsible, as it will only allow immature and unsportsmanlike exhibited so gleefully by the Portuguese to flourish.

• I wonder if Ronaldo will be welcome back to Manchester United next year. Ronaldo had talked of moving to Real Madrid, which has apparently since fallen through. I can't imagine him being welcome back anywhere in England, however. He'll end up getting the Figo treatment, or worse. Check out this quote:

The Sun reports an English racehorse owner has had a colt gelded because its name is Ronaldo.

"It would have given me much more satisfaction if I could have had the real Ronaldo's nuts cut off. But this is the best I could do," said Gary Martin, 55, of Windmill Hill, East Sussex.

• If Portugal and Italy advance to the Finals, here is my prediction: the game actually won't be played, as every single player will be carried off on a stretcher before the match even begins. In all seriousness, FIFA should be terrified of having those two play in the Finals. It will be a carnival of absurdity.

• Does anyone else find the two World Cup mascots creepy? Maybe you haven't seen GOLEO VI and PILLE before? If not, take a look below. Then YOU tell me what I'm to think of a lion giving a soccer ball with big red lips a rose.

• I was going to do a lengthy post on my favorite soccer player of all-time, Robbie Fowler, but there is already a fantastic Wikipedia entry on it. So here it is. Enjoy. My only problem with Fowler is that I now realize he looks alot like Rod Brind'Amour.

• I normally hate the French side, but Zidane has converted me into an almost fan. He has been simply outstanding this World Cup, carrying his club forth to the semis.

• If Germany and France advance to the Finals, here is my prediction: the game actually won't be played, as France will have capitulated mere hours after hearing the announcement of their opponent. In all seriousness, that is the match I would like to see. It will be like Victory all over again.

• And lastly, some words on soccer from Chuck Klosterman. I post them only to enrage people. What can I say? That's how I roll.

Soccer fanatics love to tell you that soccer is the most popular game on earth and that it’s played by 500 million people every day, as if that somehow proves its value. Actually, the opposite is true. Why should I care that every single citizen of Chile and Iran and Gibraltar thoughtlessly adores “football”? Do the people making this argument also assume Coca-Cola is ambrosia? Real sports aren’t for everyone. And don’t accuse me of being the Ugly American for degrading soccer. That has nothing to do with it. It’s not xenophobic to hate soccer; it’s socially reprehensible to support it. To say you love soccer is to say you believe in enforced equality more than you believe in the value of competition and the capacity of the human spirit. It should surprise no one that Benito Mussolini loved being photographed with Italian soccer stars during the 1930s; they were undoubtedly kindred spirits. I would sooner have my kid deal crystal meth than play soccer. Every time I pull up behind a Ford Aerostar with a “#1 Soccer Mom” bumper sticker, I feel like I’m marching in the wake of the Khmer Rouge.

That said, I don’t feel my thoughts on soccer are radical. If push came to shove, I would be more than willing to compromise: It’s not necessary to wholly outlaw soccer as a living entity. I concede that it has a right to exist. All I ask is that I never have to see it on television, that it’s never played in public (or supported with public funding), and that nobody — and I mean nobody — ever utters the phrase “Soccer is the sport of the future” for the next forty thousand years.

• P.S. If you love soccer, go buy this book.


At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what is worse:

All the diving in this tournament? Or the excessive whining about it?

I agree with the earlier post on this site on the need to establish a professional refereeing corps. Other than that, you really have to shrug your shoulders - virtually all of the teams in the tourney have been the victim of bad calls, and an inability on the part of refs to seperate simulation from the real thing.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

All the diving in this tournament? Or the excessive whining about it?

Obviously the former, because the latter wouldn't exist without it. It's a systemic issue that FIFA need to more agressively address. You can't blame the refs for this. They are helpless.

Lemme guess, Anonymous, you are an Italian or Portuguese fan?

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Thanks for replying to my provocation. Had I been online during the match, I would've had this out with you in the comments section.

I would have liked to address the diving issue in the post, but it was already too long, and I wanted to stay focused on the England side and its future.

I'm no fan of simulation, and obviously Ronaldo was trying to influence the official with his histrionics, and provoke an already flustered and frustrated Rooney.

The problem is that Rooney took the bait. He should've known better.

It's his fault that he can't keep his temper in check; after all, he's hardly the first striker to face these tactics.

I'm not sure I agree that Portugese simulation was rampant in this match -- but the roll-wail-and-clutch routine was in full swing. They are comic actors to be sure. But were their actions influencing the outcome of the match? Not in the slightest. Terry and Petit each received a caution in the first half, and the referees, who are used to the Portugese antics, ignored the fake drama (e.g. Maniche).

As for the "harmless" push, it was directly in front of the referee, and stunningly foolish (and indulgent) of Rooney. He put his temper above his team. He looked just as frustrated during the Sweden and Ecuador matches, when he was double-teamed and making no headway; it's just that Eriksson got him off the pitch in time.

I agree with the ethic behind Rooney's comment that "most players would have gone to ground at the slightest contact but my only thought then was to keep possession for England." And I can also almost agree with Andy that "the Portuguese engage in terribly unsportsmanlike play that places a black eye on the 'beautiful game' of soccer."

But the fact of the matter is that teams will use simulation and histrionics as tactics to win decisions from officials and provoke imprudent retaliation from their opponents. Your job as a player is not to respond. If you're unwilling to stoop to their tactics, then you need to find a way to channel your energy to more productive ends. I don't believe Rooney when he says that the crotch-kick was accidental. It didn't look that way to me, and it doesn't fit his history. And the shove was just over the top.

I don't think that my critique of Rooney needs to be balanced against how the Portugese play/provoke (simulation, and how to counter it, should be dealt with as a separate issue). I think Rooney needs to realize that the decision about how to react is entirely within his control.

Was he provoked -- even unfairly provoked? Yes. But he let it work.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was rooting for England to go on (more accurately, I am Canadian and just watching to see good football) - though they hadn't played well the whole tournament.

My point is that by focusing on referees' decisions, which will always contain an element of arbitrariness, you pass over the match as a whole. The whining is worse inasmuch as it pretends the main determinant of a match is the refs/lucky bounces. In reality, refs adjust to teams that consistently complain, whine, etc., and the net effect is not that great.

The first time Lupul goes down softly I'll cringe, but its benefits/costs over an entire season or career are hard to gauge. And I'll still hope he gets the call.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Well said, anonymous!

No official can be blamed for Lampard's lack of finish, or any of the dozen other ways England's squad failed to live up to their potential.

It's time for some personal responsibility.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I could care less about England winning or not winning. My greater concern is how unappealing and unfair the game is when teams are allowed to employ these tactics. I think the referees need to be better defended. They are being sent out to be slaughtered by a bunch of divers, rollers, and fakers.

And I disagree that the refs ignore these things. There were many instances throughout the World Cup where the diving, flailing, and consequent complaining led to yellow cards, red cards, and penalty kicks.

Ultimately what bothers me most is the fact that soccer fans don't seem overly concerned about the unsportsmanlike acts. Whether the answer is, "the refs ignore it," or, "it's part of the game," or "it's part of our soccer culture," the continued shenangans are a detriment to the game. It also creates competitive disadvantages, as teams such as Portugal, Italy, and Argentina are rewarded for their unsportsmanlike behaviour, and teams like England are punished.

I should admit that I am absolutely convinced that the game of soccer is antiquated and corrupt. It is run by an aristocratic elite with a sense of entitlement that is bewildering. FIFA makes the IOC look like the progressive wing of the NDP. Whether it is a) the scandal in Italy, whose greatest embarrassment shouldn't be the fact that it is finally being punished, but that everyone has known it to be this way for years and didn't do anything about it, b) that FIFA still doesn't use video review during games, or use it to punish players afterwards (see Luis Figo, or that) c) that simulation and other unsportsmanlike behavior is so rampant and accepted, the game is perpetually backwards or rotten. This, in fact, might explain why the game is so unpopular in the United States, but is so wildly popular in Europe and former Eurpean colonies. The game is undemocratic, and it is conciously or unconciously recognized as such by American fans.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

My point is thus: there are systemic problems with soccer that need to be fixed.

I also saw a highlight today of the French beating the Portuguese at Euro 2000. Their assault of the referee after he made the right call on a han ball only supports my belief that they are a despicable side.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Andy, I have nothing good to say, in this order, about the approach taken by the national sides for Argentina, Italy, Portugal, Spain and France.

Qualification: Henry/Zidane were stunning in the Brazil game -- it's like the clock was turned back 8 years -- and I couldn't help but be impressed. And the same goes for the narcissist Ronaldo. He's much more than a pretty boy, he has skill; regrettably, it's paired with the acting skills of an aging drag queen.

The Germans played a good game today; pity their out. And before we blame the culture of soccer too much, best to remember that neither England nor Germany managed to put the ball in the net -- an essential prerequisite to winning.

I still love the game, despite its flaws. I'm on record having criticized FIFA/Blatter plenty in the past, but I don't think there's going to be a revolution anytime soon, and I'm not going to worry about that too much.

It was never likely, for instance, that FIFA would change its seeding formula so that it reflected the actual powers-of-the-day. Rather than fight a hopeless battle to change the formula, England adapted itself to the reality of the rules, and succeeded under them. I think that's the best approach to this situation. It's illustrative of a broader phenomenon: that one of the Anglo-Saxon culture's most effective tools has been its ability to assimilate and adapt to other cultures and emergent circumstances.


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