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Truth, Justice, the American Way, and Soccer Referees:

The refs are working hard to screw the World Cup up, proving the wisdom of the old adage: "players win games, coaches lose games, and refs ruin games." The patently absurd penalty called against the US in its game against Ghana was not the worst of it. My two candidates for the worst of it:

  1. In the France-Korea game, Zinedine Zidane -- by common consent the greatest and most elegant player of his generation -- got the stupidest yellow card of them all; he bumped into and knocked down a Korean defender a second or two after the keeper had made a save ... a truly trivial offense, and clearly accidental. But because it was his second yellow card (he got one in the first game), he has to sit out today's match agaoinst Togo. The truly awful part of it is that (a) he announced several months ago (front page news, literally, in Italy, though I'm sure it wasn't even mentioned here in the US) his retirement from soccer after this World Cup, AND (b) France's next match might be their last in the tournament (if they don't win). So it adds up to this: because some jerk of a ref wanted to teach him some stupid lesson, we might never see Zidane play soccer again. It's truly appalling and depresses me no end (not least because now I really HAVE to root for the French to win their next game).

  2. This morning, in Tunisia-Ukraine, the score is tied 0-0; if the Tunisians win, they go through to the second round. Tunisia has a free kick, and one of the Ukrainian defenders sticks his arm up in the air and deflects the ball. As clear a penalty as you could ask for, but the ref does nothing. Five minutes later, the Ukrainian striker Andrey Schevchenko has the ball in front of the keeper, and trips over his own feet (probably intentionally, to draw a penalty) -- and he gets the call! 1-0 Ukraine -- a two-goal swing.

Here's what interesting, though. I think that this is, paradoxically (and possibly perversely), part of what people who are obsessed with soccer (all 1.5 billion or so of us)find compelling about the game. It has, like life, an irreducible element of capriciousness and luck. American football deals with this by sending out about 15 referees and, since that does not seem to be enough to guarantee that calls are made correctly, using instant replay in addition. It is equally absurd, though in a different, and I think peculiarly American, sort of way. Tunisia got screwed; it is too bad. But that,sometimes, is the way it goes . . .

Sealion (mail):
My favorite, in terms of jaw-dropping human error, was the referee giving three yellow cards to Simunic last night (not to mention two or three missed penalties, a blown offsides call, and a hair-raising finish--did Viduka score before or after the end-of-game whistle?)

At least Simunic can take consolation in having set a new World Cup record for cards in a game...
6.23.2006 2:26pm
Sealion (mail):
I've been watching too much soccer--I'm talking about the Croatia-Australia game. Poll was the referee, Simunic is a Croatian defender, and Viduka is an Australian striker.
6.23.2006 2:28pm
o' connuh j.:
As they sing in England... OH GRAHAM POLL, IS A FARKIN ARSEH**E.

And I disagree that Shevchenko tripped "intentionally". He rode TWO challenges before he tripped at the last moment. Not a penalty, but not an intentional dive either.
6.23.2006 2:31pm
Rush (mail):
Yeah, lets complain about the Refs instead of our shitty team, what are you people, Cubs fans????
6.23.2006 2:32pm
Just Edited:
The refs have been terrible. But for your information Zidane's yellow was clearly deserved. He committed a dirty foul, from behind. It was not accidental. He has a history of dirty fouls in world cups (see Saudi Arabia in 1998, where he stepped on someone). He may have been a good player, but one reason football is a great game, as opposed to, say, NBA basketball, is because the rules are the same for everyone. Yes, this is a naive view, but there is certainly no "Jordan deference" in the World Cup. If you push someone over from behind, it doesn't matter that you are called Zidane. It is a foul in the rule book, and you will be booked.
[NO WAY . . . I'VE LOOKED AT THE REPLAY 10 TIMES. NOT EVEN CLOSE TO BEING A FOUL. DAVIDP]
6.23.2006 2:32pm
JRSTL:
You nailed in that last bit why soccer will never take off in the US: it doesn't play to our sense of good sport. Diving and acting are a necessary part of international football (see Ghana's PK), and Americans recognize and detest that fact. With the glaring exception of the Vlade Divac Special, aka the low post flop, you see no behavior like this in any American sport. If a hitter dove out of the way of a fastball over the plate, a pitcher might just actually throw at him next time to make a point. If a hockey winger fell over to go for an interference or hooking call, he might find himself on the receiving end of a match penalty later on. If a receiver fell down in a route instead of going for the completion, even if he got the interference call he would likely be either yanked out of the game or catch a Roy Williams forearm shiver on the next crossing pattern.

But even the flop rarely alters the outcome of a basketball game; in soccer, it routinely does, and is one of the reasons teams like Italy fall all over the field. The British actually hold similar views of diving, which is why the continental teams hate the Brits almost as much as us, and the Brits hate them right back (just watch a Spain or Italy game with British commentary). I just feel Americans can't take the fact that in soccer, cheating can very easily overcome hard work if done appropriately.
6.23.2006 2:34pm
Casual Soccer Fan:
I definitely agree with you about those two screw-ups.

The thing with the call against the U.S. is that without the penalty kick, chances are the game ends in a draw and the U.S. still doesn't advance. However, that's just speculation at this point. [RIGHT -- WE REALLY CAN'T SAY 'WE WUZ ROBBED,' BECAUSE EVEN WITHOUT THE PENALTY, WE HAD TO SCORE ANOTHER GOAL, AND WE WERE INCAPABLE OF DOING THAT.
I'M NOT WHINING ABOUT THE REFS, AS SOME OTHER COMMENTERS SUGGESTED; WE FULLY DESERVED ELIMINATION. BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN WE SHOULDN'T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE REFS WHEN THEY STINK - AND THEY HAVE REALLY STUNK. DAVIDP]

Another one of the refereeing low points for me was back in the France-Korea game where the French essentially had one of their goals taken from them. The ball clearly crossed into the goal before the goaltender blocked it out. If that goal had counted, Zidane and the French would have a much better chance of advancing.
6.23.2006 2:35pm
o' connuh j.:
Wouldn't that undermine what you said? Brits detest diving and gamesmanship in football and yet they like the game.
6.23.2006 2:36pm
Christopher Hasbrouck (mail):
I'm speaking from the perspective of a guy who plays and watches only football, but for any sport, I still refuse to believe that refs can determine a game. If a team truly plays well enough to win, they'll win. The refs never decide games.

Blaming the refs for a loss is crap and every real sports fan understands it. Tickytack penalties, bad calls, and missed calls are part of the game, even in American football. The outcome of a game is still determined by the teams, not the refs.

[Someone who plays and watches ONLY FOOTBALL should be a little more circumspect when speaking about "all sports." You are, simply, wrong. That's the point about soccer -- it is, in fact, different. Check it out sometime -- DavidP]
6.23.2006 2:42pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Global politics explained through soccer commentary.

Very nice.
6.23.2006 2:45pm
JRSTL:
Oh, and another note about the Brits: I think the one event that could have the single greatest positive effect on the perception of soccer in America would be a US vs. England World Cup match, esp. in the knockout phase. First, it's England. Picture half the stadium with signs and songs about "The Colonies" and the American fans doing god knows what (dress circa 1750 and chuck bags of tea??). Second, since most American exposure to soccer comes from the World Cup, they would see that there are top-class teams that DON'T take acting lessons and play just as hard or harder. Americans don't get carted off unless they're really hurt, and sometimes not even then (see: McBride). The Brits are the same: Owen played hurt and finally had to blow out his knee to come off. Add to that the maniacal Wayne Rooney and Americans could start to relate. Granted, Beckham is a pretty boy, but then what is ARod?
6.23.2006 2:45pm
JRSTL:
O'Connuh:

I've never been able to reconcile that question in my mind. English fans are arguably the most rabid in the world: I truly am scared what would happen to London should they ever win the whole thing. The one possiblity I can come up with is that they won the cup 50 years ago, got into the sport as a nation, but since then have seen the Cup won repeatedly by teams like Italy and Argentina. Maybe the more they see it, the more they want to see their team knock those teams out? I don't know.
6.23.2006 2:50pm
Jesse (mail) (www):

If a hitter dove out of the way of a fastball over the plate, a pitcher might just actually throw at him next time to make a point.


I notice a lot of batters diving out of the way of pitches that are not particularly inside -- partly because a lot of them tend to lean over the plate to take away the inside pitch. On the other side, catchers move their gloves back into the strike zone after catching a pitch in order to convine the ump it was a strike.

Football, basketball and hockey all have their own versions of players bending the rules or making it appear that they have been fouled. It's not as blatant as the diving in soccer -- and it usually has less potential to impact the game -- but it does happen.
6.23.2006 2:51pm
Steve:
With the glaring exception of the Vlade Divac Special, aka the low post flop, you see no behavior like this in any American sport.

I can't believe we're watching the same sporting events. Players routinely dive in an attempt to draw a penalty in virtually every major sport.

True hockey fans, mind you, regard diving as an utterly craven way to play the game, and they think less of players who do it. But I don't know that it's different in soccer. Do people really venerate soccer players for their ability to pretend like they've been fouled?
6.23.2006 2:51pm
byomtov (mail):
JRSTL,

I'm not sure I agree. Trying to influence referees and umpires seems like a part of American sports. Basketball coaches routinely try to "work the refs," for example, and catchers often try to catch marginal pitches in a position that makes them look more like strikes.

I'm not a soccer fan at all, but reading about officiating complaints suggests to me that perhaps the problem is that the penalties for some offenses are disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense, or its effect on the game. Just an uninformed thought.
6.23.2006 2:54pm
John Steele (mail):
O'connuh,

Yes, the Brits already love the game despite flopping, but in the US the game has to gain respect and flopping is a huge impediment. Most US fans have played football (the kind where full collisions happen every play) and baseball (where you get hit with hard balls). Some play hockey, a brutally physical sport. Taking pain stoically is highly valued. True, some degree of flopping is part of basketball, but you don't writhe on the ground in phony pain.
6.23.2006 2:57pm
Humble Law Student (mail):
I think the point is that you have to go to someone like Dennis Rodman to find an American comparison to the injury/foul "showmanship" that you get in international soccer.
6.23.2006 2:57pm
JRSTL:
Steve: Other than the post flop, I can't think of another sport where a player would even consider diving to get a call. It wouldn't help you in baseball, in football it would interfere with your ability to actually make the play and likely get you yanked, and in hockey the payback would be/is brutal.

I'm making a distinction between falling around all over the place and trying to bend the rules in other ways that don't seem as... "weak". For instance, baseball players trying to act like they caught a ball or made a tag when they didn't, or O-linemen blatantly holding a blitzing linebacker, or the Karl Malone 4-step baseline move without a dribble. Possibly I'm wrong, but I think their is something in the general American mind that splits diving off from the rest of sports "cheating" and marks it off limits.
6.23.2006 2:58pm
David W Drake (mail):
I believe that referees in soccer can indeed control the outcome. Witness the calls in 2002 World Cup against Spain v South Korea. Spain clearly would have won that match absent the terrible offside calls. The referee has much more power over the game than in any other sport of which I am aware. This is what the Italian scandal is all about.

The acceptance of the power of the referee and his often terrible calls by the rest of the world says volumes about their relations with authority and ours. U.S. sports fans simply would not accept the degree and effect of interference in the game by referees that the rest of the world tolerates.
6.23.2006 3:00pm
JRSTL:
God, i need to proofread these things.
6.23.2006 3:00pm
Bobbie:
Why are soccer fans so insecure that whenever they mention they're a fan of the sport, they must mention that X billion people in the world also like soccer?
6.23.2006 3:07pm
Medis:
Flopping has little to do with why the US still yawns about the World Cup. The problem is not flopping--it is LOSING.
6.23.2006 3:13pm
JosephSlater (mail):
(1) I agree with David Post about Zidane's yellow card. His momentum took him into the player, it was only a gentle bump, and the bump had nothing to do with the play. It's a darn shame that Zizou can't play later today. And David P. is right more broadly about some surprisingly shoddy reffing in this year's World Cup tourney. Although the cheap call in the U.S- - Ghana game could have been avoided if the U.S. side had cleared the ball properly.

(2) Re Dennis Rodman -- The Worm was many things, and not all of them positive, but I don't think he had a reputation as a flopper. He tended to dish out contact more than (pretend to) receive it).

(3) Medis is right about the U.S. and the World Cup. If we were winning, we would be hearing a lot more about what a Great Game, Great Event, and Great ... etc. this all is. Oh well, wait 'til next time.
6.23.2006 3:21pm
Ted Frank (www):
I gather that yellow cards are possible for particularly blatant flops? I've heard it discussed, but haven't seen it.

One interesting difference: in American baseball, basketball or football, a defensive player hurt during a play means that the other team has a one-man advantage until a stoppage of play; that outfielder hurt running into the wall means the batter takes an extra base or two; that basketball player grabbing his knee means a 5-on-4 play. In soccer, a team with the ball will intentionally kick it out of bounds so that the opposing player can be helped, and then that second team will kick the ball out of bounds back. The Italian coach criticized the US for failing to adhere to that norm. Of course, individual scores are much much more important in soccer than in American sports, but, still, there's no sense of poor sportsmanship if a cornerback's injury means a wide open touchdown pass.

While every American sport has practices that bend the rule, there's no real analogy to the sort of flopping and faking injury that one sees in soccer--except by the occasional European player in basketball. In American football, teams are penalized with a timeout for a real injury in the last two minutes, precisely to prevent the sort of tactics Ghana used at the end of their match with the US, where several minutes were ticked off the clock by players "needing" to be stretchered off.

I will say that the World Cup play has been mesmerizing, and shows how awful TV timeouts are in American sports. Baseball is essentially unwatchable now, as there's an extra half hour of delay in each game that there wasn't in my childhood, and it's hard to sit through an entire basketball or football game without some boredom.
6.23.2006 3:21pm
Joe7 (mail):
Having watched Australian Rules Football, I can only conclude that soccer players are the biggest babies in the sports world. It isn't just faking injuries, but the rules have absurd provisions to prevent any actual action from happening. (If the goalie can hold the ball in his hands, he should be fair game to get plastered.)
6.23.2006 3:23pm
hey (mail):
Complaining about refs in most sports is a sign that you didn't play well, but that (maybe) you could have won, rather than having really deserved to win. If you deserved to win, you would have had a few goals/baskets/runs/touchdowns worth of insurance, rather than relying on one single call. Maybe you could have won, but you still played like crap.

In soccer (that gaytarded sport as mentioned here previously) 1-0 is a blow out, and 2-0 is about time to bring on the mercy rule. There is no such thing as a regular winning cushion as there is in actual sports, and so whining about the ref is more excusable. Of course the mere fact that you were in a soccer game tends to void any sympathy and justness for your point, but still.

Speaking as a player in all of the other sports, basketball feels closest to soccer in terms of the frequency and utility of diving. That's somewhat thanks to my positions (linebacker, hockey defenceman, rugby scrum half) being very heavy on contact.

Diving in football hardly ever happens, especially compared to frequency of holding/pushing off (which is nearly 100%). Thanks to the nature of the game (so many places where things can happen) and the attitudes of coaches (stop being a nancy boy, go out and kill someone) diving is highly discouraged, and the players will also enact revenge (opposition, and your own team bitching about having to ignore you on offense or losing help on defence). In hockey, diving essentially only happens if your name ends in "sson" and you have long, blond locks. In all cases, you'll be excorciated by both sides and are liable to have a splenectomy or nephrectomy conducted by the butt of someone's hockey stick several plays later. Rugby... diving tends to be useless (scrum to opposing side, a kick for a few yards' advantage, very rarely an opportunity for a kick to goal for points) as well as highly dangerous (you never get to come off the field unless you're bleeding, and you will find yourself on the ground with the entire opposing team running over you at some later point. you depend on their goodwill for your continued existence and ability to reproduce).

In all cases, the penalties are essentially meaningless as compared to the overall outcome (even in basketball, which sometimes needs more severe penalties to discourage "Hack a Shaq" style play). What is more, they are good, Anglo-Saxon games in that they have very high levels of self policing (rugby has players take lineouts further back than they are entitled to so as to get into play faster, though that's an advantage of its own).

Soccer is an effiminate, statist sport controlled by the ref, with little result, and effort and talent having virtually no effect on the outcome. It is, in a word, French. Its origins in England and reliance on the support of the British Upper Class for its foundation is no bar to this, as it quite resembles France itself in these respects (CDG, the wine business, country real estate, couture...).
6.23.2006 3:38pm
pp (mail):
The thing Americans detest about flopping is that if their acting is good enough, it can make a significant impact on the game. How many games are goals only scored on penalty kicks, free kicks with set plays, or after one team goes a man or two down.
In basketball their is acting no doubt. But at most it can give someone an extra point or two or 1/50th of their total final score.
In hockey diving is a penalty to the diver. Maybe soccer should try that. Yellow card for wussiness. Red card if you grab you head and cry after no one even touches you.
6.23.2006 3:40pm
afala (mail):
Kickers in the NFL usually exaggerate the effects of any contact, QBs do too. WRs flop too, but given how physical football is compared to soccer, the flops are based on much greater contact than many of these soccer flops.

I think one of you hit the nail on the head by pointing to the 'weak' or effeminate nature of the soccer flopping. It's silly that grown men fling themselves to the ground after touching shoulders. And it's a big impediment to pro soccer's gaining legitimacy in the US. It doesn't help that most men over 30 probably view soccer primarily as something their kids play.
6.23.2006 3:43pm
afala (mail):
Oh, and I definitely agree that the disproportionate outcome flopping can have on the game sours it for Americans.
6.23.2006 3:47pm
agog:
In hockey diving is a penalty to the diver. Maybe soccer should try that. Yellow card for wussiness. Red card if you grab you head and cry after no one even touches you.

As one poster mentioned, in theory players can be given yellow cards for diving in the world cup.

A big problem, I think, is that a single referee + two assistants who stay on the side lines. Has to make all of these determinations in real time while minimizing stoppages. Given the angles at which the refs often must view contact, there will always be dives they can't catch. Of course soccer fans would never stand for instant replay.

One solution would be for FIFA to implement a regime whereby the various fouls are reviewed after the fact, and some penalty, say green cards, issued to each player determined to have dived. Some threshold of cards would result in a match suspension, and a fine be issued with each card.

Of course, some might not like this as it admits the fallibility of the ref, and it could cause a row if a match outcome hinged on a foul later ruled a dive. But, the review panel could mitigate these concerns by assign these warning cards without commenting on the specific plays that warranted them.
6.23.2006 3:55pm
Sports Watcher (mail):
Kickers in the NFL usually exaggerate the effects of any contact, QBs do too. WRs flop too, but given how physical football is compared to soccer, the flops are based on much greater contact than many of these soccer flops.

That's true, and it points to what galls me more than anything else about soccer divers. It's one thing to fall down after minimal contact. People do that in lots of sports (Shane Battier in basketball, for example). But usually there at least is some precipitating event that could arguably be a foul.

What soccer has that, to my knowledge, is totally unmatched in American sports is the faking of an injury along with the flop. It's not enough to fall down and draw a bogus free kick, you also have to writhe and moan in pretend pain on the ground? I can't think of any fake foul in American sports that's even close to Rivaldo cynically drawing a card by grabbing his face after being hit with a ball in the leg. And almost never do you see medical personnel used to further the illusion min baseball, or basketball, or American rules football.
6.23.2006 3:58pm
procrastinating clerk (mail):
In defense of flopping:

There seems to be a divide over the question of whether controlled violence is "part of the game," as the English-speaking announcers have always insisted, or whether such violence is simply a brutish tactic employed by less-talented teams in an effort to disrupt the play of their faster, more graceful opponents (as the rest of the world suspects).

I prefer fast-paced soccer, where the talent is allowed to shine, so I grudgingly tolerate the flop. It was somewhat effective, for example, in preventing the Australians from turning their match against Brazil into a Hockey game, and it has been conspicuously absent when, as in the Brazil-Japan game, both sides have let each other run.
6.23.2006 4:04pm
hey (mail):
Afala: kickers do exaggerate, but they are in an especially dangerous and defenseless position vis a vis a charging OLB or lineman (not to mention typically being 100+ pounds lighter than the guy coming to kill him). While QBs do dive on occasion, they are also highly likely to get simply flattened by 1-3 300lb men just after they release the ball. A few nancy HS QBs are more than made up for the (highly low IQ but gutsy) Steve Youngs, Drew Bledsoes and Doug Fluties of the world.

Agog: while there is a penalty for diving in hockey, it isn't called all that frequently. The major thing is that it just isn't rewarded very often either, and flailing like an Italian soccer player is more likely to hurt your own team, penalty or no, than it is to help. Canada's Don Cherry (the most popular commentator in hockey, equivalent to every legendary baseball broadcaster rolled into one) is especially negative on diving (and on Swedes and Europeans in general) and gets paid millions of dollars to preach this orthodoxy every Saturday night during the season and every day during the 2 months of the playoffs. Not only does he highlight miscreants and actors, but he then demonstrates good ways of dealing with said infractions (usually involving some sort of pummeling, grinding a face into the ice, or an especially neat check into the opposing bench, all of which usually leave the victim/previous offender woozy at best).

The best clip I've seen of the World Cup had 2 men barely touch shoulders, with the attacker then collapsing on the ground, screaming and grasping the shin of his outside leg that was 3 feet away from the defender and any possible contact or injury. More French than words. Real sports everyone plays hurt, if not injured, while soccer has heros based purely on the ability to fake a paper cut.
6.23.2006 4:17pm
CLR (mail):
I think everyone's missing the point about Zidane's second yellow: It's quite possibly the *best* thing that happened to France this World Cup. However good he may once have been, he's now slow and old, and he has contributed precious little recently to Real Madrid or France. He does, however, have a remarkable inability -- or unwillingness -- to find Thierry Henry, so playing with Zidane severely hampers France's best player (and one of the best strikers in the world). I suppose today's result could prove me wrong, but I predict Henry will do well with someone else in Zidane's place.
6.23.2006 4:18pm
CLR (mail):
I should add that having Zidane out is like having Landon Donovan suspended (or, I don't know, maimed) for the Ghana match, with Eddie Johnson taking his place.
6.23.2006 4:20pm
OK Lawyer:
Wow. The soccer hatred comes through once again whenever the subject arises. "It's slow" or "It's un-American" for any number of bogus reasons. If you like soccer, as I do, watch it and enjoy it. If you don't, why do you feel the need to run it down? I don't care for baseball, in fact I down right loathe it. But, I don't freak out on people who say they enjoy it.

First, the diving is just as much the gamesmanship as Phil Jackson or Mark Cuban working the refs in b-ball is, or Patrick Ewing's famous 8 step dunks, or offensive lineman holding every single play. Every sport has its problems.

Soccer is not as popular in America for a number of reasons. Soccer has been forced down people's throats and they resent it. The US does not have a world class team, and anything we are not good at must suck. We have limited attention spans, and watching an uninterrupted game for 45 min stretches is too hard on some. We can only embrace so many sports, and with b-ball, football, and baseball, we don't have room. Trying to convince someone that soccer is a great game and fun to watch is impossible.
6.23.2006 4:21pm
ToddN (mail):
I am a soccer fan, having learned to appreciate it by watching my boys play. But if 1.5 billion fans love soccer in part because games being ruined by referees reflects life as it really is, then there are (at least) 1.5 billion silly people in the world.

Not only does bad officiating detract from the sport directly, but it encourages the constant flopping and feigning of injuries which are shameful to the sport. Worse, these behaviors are far more prevalent at the highest levels of the game, so younger players still have a lot to "learn" about how the game "should" be played.

If making serious efforts to have athletic events decided by the skill of the players is somehow uniquely American, count me in as usual.
6.23.2006 4:23pm
OK Lawyer:
CLR, I agree 100% about Donovan.
6.23.2006 4:23pm
bob montgomery:
In defense of flopping:

There seems to be a divide over the question of whether controlled violence is "part of the game," as the English-speaking announcers have always insisted, or whether such violence is simply a brutish tactic employed by less-talented teams in an effort to disrupt the play of their faster, more graceful opponents (as the rest of the world suspects).

I prefer fast-paced soccer, where the talent is allowed to shine, so I grudgingly tolerate the flop. It was somewhat effective, for example, in preventing the Australians from turning their match against Brazil into a Hockey game, and it has been conspicuously absent when, as in the Brazil-Japan game, both sides have let each other run.


A sport where obvious, annoying cheating is *necessary* for the good of the game is a sport that needs some rule changes.

For one thing, why not have more refs for big international tournaments? Pro baseball generally has 4 umps at all regular season games, but for the postseason, they have six. Why? Because the games are more important and it is better to have more eyes out there.

Also, if finesse/fast soccer is so much better than physical soccer, the rules should be changed to promote that, rather than allowing all kinds of ridiculous flopping to effect that.
6.23.2006 4:26pm
hey (mail):
PC: In real sports, physicality alone won't help you win the game either. Look at this year's NHL and the usual Olympic Hockey, where fast teams that focus on skill and speed can easily beat teams that try to advance purely on the ability to destroy the other team. Same in rugby, where Japanese teams do credibly, especially in 7s, and Canadian teams have a mixed at best record, despite being very good physically (thank you hockey).

Real men don't flop. One does need to control holding and the like, and to punish it severely (see this year's NHL), but that is completely separate from a flop (or what a flop solves) and creates overly hesitant defence. Fast paced soccer is great, but is useless if one can't defend well. There is just as much of a place for sliding tackles and incidental contact in taking out the ball (as in the baseball duel between catcher and runner). Soccer depends too much on not even looking at the opposition meanly so as not to get a yellow card.
6.23.2006 4:27pm
Ted Frank (www):
The other good thing about soccer is that Football Manager is a better and more immersive sports computer game than any other.
6.23.2006 4:29pm
procrastinating clerk (mail):
bob montgomery,

The rules have been changed. That is why yellow cards are flowing like cheap liebfraumilch.
6.23.2006 4:32pm
Sports Watcher (mail):
First, the diving is just as much the gamesmanship as Phil Jackson or Mark Cuban working the refs in b-ball is, or Patrick Ewing's famous 8 step dunks, or offensive lineman holding every single play. Every sport has its problems.

You cannot seriously argue that there is no difference whatsoever betweeen telling a referee "Hey, they are clutching Kobe on screens" (or whatever Phil Jackson might say) and pretending that one suffered some horrible injury that is entirely made up.

And I love soccer, don't get me wrong. But just as soccer haters seem to invent supposed flaws with it, soccer fans pretend that any legitimate problem with the game are somehow always equalled by a flaw in an American sport. Why is it OK to complain about the (undeniably true) lack of flow and continuity in basketball, but somehow abhorrent to suggest that just maybe soccer has its own unique flaw?

(My solution for fake injuries, incidentally, would be to instruct referees to not allow players carried off on a stretcher to return to play for some predetermined amount of time, and to add larger amounts of stoppage time. Both of these have the advantage of requiring only referee instructions and not changes in the rules themselves.)
6.23.2006 4:42pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
I see the US players taking dives and exaggerating (grabbing knee or ankle, writhing in pain) all the time. Maybe not as much as most other teams, but very frequently.

Another drawback of soccer, is that the team that plays "better" doesn't win enough. I know that's a subjective statement, and I know that in the long run, the teams that play better win the most. Much like Texas-Hold-Em (where 3-1 is a "dominating" advantage), it seems to lack a certain justice to it.
6.23.2006 4:52pm
Joel B. (mail):
One thing about injuries in American Football (I hate having to say that) is that they are rarely determinative of a penalty. No one cares that a WR is writhing in pain after getting tackled and fumbles the ball. No penalty flag comes out for such a thing. The injury is wholly irrelevant. The acting an injury in football is just a paean often enough to wounded pride. And as a good sport does, it allows the actor to feign his injury but gives him no reward for it. A roughing the passer call will be given or not based on the nature of the tackle, not whether or not the QB was injured. If no foul, and the QB ends up with a concussion (sp?) well, that's just part of the game, bring in the Backup QB.
6.23.2006 5:08pm
hey (mail):
Sports Watcher: the best solution is to take the rugby alternative, in that if you go off for an injury, you can't come back on. This is only voided in cases of drawn blood, where one must leave to clean up and be bandaged (something that is rather hard to game or fake). You will frequently see trainers on the field, away from the play, attending to a rugby player while play continues, trying to see if he actually has to come off or if he'll be better in a minute and the team can afford to play a man short rather than having him come out for the rest of the match.

The best Rugby injury I've witnessed was when a teammate had had his forehead stepped on and there was a nice round cleat-shaped dent in his forehead (yes, he had a skull fracture and deformation). It was just one of those things, and while he came off, there was no real fuss over it (ok outside of the need for immediate and serious medical attention). Another one was a straight arm (delivered by a man with a broken arm no less) that not only laid out the defender unconcious but also broke his jaw. You could hear the crack from the othter side of the field. Again a case of that just being the game.

The only gamesmanship that you typically see happen in rugby is a quick penalty (penalised team needs to retreat 10 yards, and there's another penalty 10 yards down field if they don't), but that also can be self policing (any contact will draw a penalty, and sometimes the opposition decides to take you out rather than simply just brush you, and I've been crushed and winded by 300 pound forwards a few times doing it).

As to why we will continue to denigrate soccer: everyone is having the thing forced down our throats, and it galls to see such a globally celebrated bunch of whiners. Further, people who like baseball won't deny that slow play and questionable athelticism is a problem (nor will people who are cricket fanatics acknowledge the difficulty of day long and multi-day matches). Soccer fans not only do not accept criticism, but try to bully us right seeing folks by claiming that 1.5B can't be wrong. Incorrect, they frequently are, ChiComs, Soviets, Marxism, and 70s hair, Disco, and fashions are but a few examples!
6.23.2006 5:11pm
Kristian (mail) (www):

The Worm was many things, and not all of them positive, but I don't think he had a reputation as a flopper.


HAH!

Only John Stockton and Jeff Hornecek, both of whom may actaully have had inner ear imbalances, fell to the ground more often than Rodman.

As for the rest of American Sports, yes, they try to get calls. How many times do recievers turn to the officals and yell about interference?

But flopping in collision sports like Football and Hockey just isn't a good idea. There is a lot of risk with at best a little reward.
6.23.2006 5:14pm
hey (mail):
ok a few spelling issues, and cricket fans won't fail to acknowledge that day long and multi-day matches are rather hard in today's society. You will hear politically-incorrect whites and other upper class people pine for the days when "everyone" could take a few days off for a match and we all had several platoons of servants to take care of things back in The Raj, Colonial South Africa (when the Brits ran it, not the even more Boers who weren't much more than natives nayways), Malaysia...
6.23.2006 5:19pm
OK Lawyer:
I certainly was not suggesting that soccer did not have its share of problems. Obviously it does. Offsides needs to be changed and cards need to be more frequent for clearly intentional flops are a few examples.

I have another change: Make the goals inside the 6 yard box worth one point, goals outside the 6, but inside the 18 are two, and goals outside are worth three, goals from set pieces are one if direct. That would certainly increase the scoring.

My point was that the gamesmanship and rule bending is a problem in all sports and should be addressed. But to say it ONLY applies in soccer is just incorrect.
6.23.2006 5:21pm
hey (mail):
Rodman is essentially a Swedish basketball player: dirty as hell (stickwork in hockey, elbows for the Worm) and operatic in fakery. I've no use for either.
6.23.2006 5:22pm
Mawado (mail):
OK,

First off, the reason soccer players hold their lower extremities and roll around when injured is because, unlike all the other sports mentioned, the means of advancing and scoring is the means of balance. That is, controlling the ball with a foot means the other foot has to handle all of the balance and bear all the weight of the player. Hence, when truly fouled, a player goes down. Hence, when faking, a player goes down to adequately simulate the false foul.

Second of all, you all call yourself libertarians? The problem isn't the referee, the problem is that FIFA acts as the state and provides the referees. This allows FIFA to control the referee's instructions, as well as all the incentives of the referee, to promote it's own ends instead of the teams' or players' advantage.

The true problem is that there is not a market for referees where teams and players bid on the services of a referee. Since the referees are controlled collectively, the invisible hand of a free market is impeded. And, everyone knows that imbeding another player is a foul in soccer.

Mawado

PS Also note that, if armed, players could protect themselves without the services of a referee.
6.23.2006 5:22pm
hey (mail):
Mawado, the players don't need to be armed, as they're armed already with cleats. They just need to be left alone to play, like in rugby. Which is an even better game, in that play continues to see if your side has actually been hampered by an infraction before it is called. A further disincentive for diving and more encouragment for grit and effort. Yes I do love rugby, though I can't play anymore thanks to work, and instead golf, sail, and ski (professions are hard to mix with team sports).
6.23.2006 5:50pm
JRSTL:
OKLawyer made a point that I forgot to make regarding soccer's popularity: in many countries, it's the only real sport, primarily because all you need is a round ball and some means of delineating a goal. There are 4 professional non-soccer leagues in America in addition to the non-team sports like golf, and Americans simply can't get worked up as a group over one particular sport. Someone may point out that England and her former colonies have cricket and rugby in addition to soccer, but my experience is that the former two primarily draw an upper class crowd, while the majority of the population prefers soccer and only watches major events in the other sports, such as The Ashes.
6.23.2006 5:53pm
Sammy Finkelman (mail):
It is true that in the United States cheating is not part of the game, but I think some of the rules originated as result of attemoppting to break the rules of the games - stealing bases in baseball for instance. Things were regularized I guess before the year 1900.

Nobody plays the umpires - the old slopgan was Kill the Umpire if they thought - or wanted to think - the umpire was doing something wrong.
6.23.2006 5:53pm
Lev:
"If you look at soccer and the way that it's played, whether it's in the men's game or the women's game, it's fascinating. We're moving a ball up and down with our feet." US women's soccer coach

Yeah, fascinating.
6.24.2006 1:48am
Patrick (mail):
The best part about Rugby is that, although the central ref is backed up by two sideline refs, who can talk to him on a headset if they see an infringement, if there is a doubtful score, then, given that the play has stopped anyway, they stop and ask the video ref.

At least for goals and penalties, soccer could easily do the same, and then diving in the box would simply cease tomorrow, as would a few of the other complaints in this thread (handballs, disallowed goals, etc).
6.24.2006 3:19am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Do they use the Penalty Kick Tie Breaker thing in the elimination games? Something needs to be done to increase the # of goals scored. It doesn't have to be basketball, but the 0-0 and 1-1 games are lethal.
6.24.2006 9:50am
CLR (mail):
If the teams are still even after 90 minutes in the knockout round, they play two 15-minute periods of extra time. (*Not* sudden death.) If the teams remain tied after extra time (either by the original score or, obviously, if both teams score the same number of goals in extra time), it goes to penalty kicks. Because stopping them relies almost purely on luck, PKs are really a sad way to choose between two teams, but it's the only practicable way to do so -- the old practice (at least in England) of replaying the entire match won't work with a tournament as short as the World Cup or with TV. (And the people who think scoreless draws are boring probably wouldn't be happy to see the teams go at it for another 90 minutes another day.)
6.24.2006 3:02pm
James Paul Davis (mail):
Thank you for describing so beautifully what is atrocious about soccer.

Each team gets roughly three decent chances to score a goal in two hours. In between, we get nothing but the deranged and insane opinions of refs who are probably on the take. Oh, one more thing -- the chance to watch grown men fake injuries.

But then, it's "The World's Game" isn't it? Until you realize that it's just Europe, and its former South American colonies, that are the only ones who take it seriously.

God in heaven, end the World Cup, and its pomposity, ASAP.
6.24.2006 6:38pm
Patrick (mail):
You seem to forget Africa and Asia, and that for your purposes South America stretches to the Texas border.

Which leaves, er, , well, only two countries that I can see on my map: America and Canada.

It is fine if you don't like soccer, and indeed understandable. It is regrettable, and sad, that you resent other people not sharing your own views.
6.25.2006 1:35am
Lev:
Foul!


...But there is one obstacle to soccer acceptance that seems insurmountable: the flop-'n'-bawl.

Turn on a World Cup game, and within 15 minutes you'll see a grown man fall to the ground, clutch his leg and writhe in agony after being tapped on the shoulder by an opposing player. Soccer players do this routinely in an attempt to get the referees to call foul. If the ref doesn't immediately bite, the player gets up and moves along.

Making a show of your physical vulnerability runs counter to every impulse in American sports. And pretending to be hurt simply compounds the outrage....
6.26.2006 12:43am
Bobo:
Problems I, as an American, have with soccer:

1) As discussed, the diving for penalties. I've seen clear cases where two players jump up for a ball, simply bump shoulders (and the contact clearly can't be blamed on one player more than the other), and the one that remains standing gets the penalty called on him.

2) The feeling I get all around that in order to get a penalty, the player must be hurt. American sports may have penalities and even diving, but the likelyhood of a penalty call is only dependant on the contact made and not of the result. Cornerbacks get called for interference all the time when the opposing player falls down and gets up. It's clear that in soccer, the refs are more likely to call a penalty when an injury (real or fake) occurs, which is silly. If I punch a player in the face but he can't even feel it, I should get a red card. But if the contact is incidental and he breaks both legs, there should be no penalty.

3) Too much randomness. Scoring just seems too "lucky." On this I suspect that I'm clearly wrong and that watching more soccer will make this obvious, but in some games the teams get a couple shots on goal. So much has to go right just to make a shot go in. Come on, America was able to tie Italy because an Italian kicked it in his own goal. You could say this about football or baseball or whatever, but in those sports, there are plenty of chances to score. I guess what I'm saying it's about sample size - if I get 3 clear shots on goal and score 1, am I really better than the team that gets 4 shots but doesn't score any? Yes, I know, the teams which are better create more scoring opportunities for themselves, but this just isn't exciting. Sorry.

4) The infrequency of scoring. Not because "us Americans need action", and "action = scoring". But because, like someone above said, 1-0 is a blowout, and 2-0 is the beating of a lifetime. Basically if I'm losing by 2 with 10 minutes, I have such a small chance of winning that it's not even worth playing. There's no suspense. Game's over. In baseball, we see great comebacks all the time. Not _that_ frequently, mind you - that's what keeps them interesting. But frequently enough (maybe a team down one run in the 9th will tie it up about 15-20% of the time?) to keep me interested - and consider it a great game when we tie it. Once in awhile we see comebacks of 4, 6, 8 runs - this is just impossible in soccer.

Ok, that's way too much for now...but I'm interested in hearing your opinions. I have a lot of foreign friends and they are all obsessed, naturally, with the World Cup. I agree it's interesting, but for the reasons listed above, I find it hard to believe that I'll ever become a big fan.
6.26.2006 2:57pm
madbomber:
the worst case of pathetic simulation and refereeing ineptitude was the game Australia vs Italy. In litterally the last seconds of the game an Italian made a move into the box and was challenged by Neill who has been argueably one of the stars of this world cup. Neill missed him, yet the Italian veered to the side, scraped his foot over Neill, threw his arms in the air and went down. The Referee was instantaneous in his decision. It was pathetic on both counts.

Italy and the ref should be ashamed.
6.26.2006 11:46pm
madbomber:
[quote]In defense of flopping:

There seems to be a divide over the question of whether controlled violence is "part of the game," as the English-speaking announcers have always insisted, or whether such violence is simply a brutish tactic employed by less-talented teams in an effort to disrupt the play of their faster, more graceful opponents (as the rest of the world suspects).

I prefer fast-paced soccer, where the talent is allowed to shine, so I grudgingly tolerate the flop. It was somewhat effective, for example, in preventing the Australians from turning their match against Brazil into a Hockey game, and it has been conspicuously absent when, as in the Brazil-Japan game, both sides have let each other run.[/quote]

Australia came into the World Cup with an unfair reputation of being overly agressive. It seemed that the referees were obviously going out of their way to make calls against them, and to protect the Brazilians. Who is to say the Brazilians are more skilled if the ref has to watch out for them.

FIFA is all about fair play, so where is the fairness in staging for a free kick.It's amazing how the commentators just casually accept the ineptitude of the referees. "Ah yes that ball was clearly a metre out of bounds, but referee Helmut Schnitelgruber has allowed the game to continue..". "Ah did Fonz Feltchweiner just trip over the Australian player Klaus Frotburgen then? Ah yes, clearly no contact, but it's a penalty kick anyway. Good decision!"

If my national sport consisted of games like that, I can half understand why they have to surround the ground with 3m security fences, and why the fans torch towns afterwards.
6.27.2006 12:00am
End italic:
Fixed?
6.27.2006 1:47pm