Wednesday, June 28, 2006

France over Spain: Thoughts on Dives

For full disclosure, I wanted France to win (which they did 3-1) and I share the consensus that, when it matters, Spain will choke.

There is a bit grumbling among Spanish fans that Thierry Henry of France (known for his tenacity to keep on his feet) took a dive in the second half that led to the set play where France took its lead. But how did Spain score in the first place? On a foul, and not a particularly hard on in the penalty box, giving them a PK in first 30 minutes. Take away the set piece and the PK, then France wins 2-0.

The prevalence of dives and their ensuing penalty kicks have been important in several games for me (Ghana against the US, Italy over Australia, the Ukraine over Tunisia). A penalty kick awarded by an official, on average is 70% certain, a set play hardly as successfully. France still had to put it in, and only by deflection did they.

There are a couple interesting perspectives on dives. Dave Eggers theorizes US mistrust of soccer is fueled by flopping , being "a combination of acting, lying, begging, and cheating." But today Austin Kelley advocates for the devil, and compellingly so.
"Far from being a sign of corruption, diving is, in certain ways, a civilizing influence. Divers are usually quicker, smaller players. As athletes get bigger and stronger, the little guy gets nudged aside. If professional fouls and brute force reign supreme, creative play and joyful improvisation will suffer."
I'm not convinced, and I blame FIFA and their officials as being too zealous to call fouls and book players. Officials can punish divers by ignoring them. There are number of great players sitting out games for lame cards (diving is a bookable offense, though not applied consistantly), and enough questionable penalty kicks to alter the final eight. The flip side is watching Brazil benefit from calls, providing their second goal against Ghana that should have been waved for a clear offsides. No one anticipates it getting better, we're merely near the end of the tournament.



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