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Dive, poor officiating get 2014 World Cup off to a bad start

Jun 12, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT

nishimura_fred AP

Soccer’s too big to be hurt by one dive, but if there’s one thing the sport’s marquee event didn’t need on day one, it was simulation deciding a match. Perhaps worse: The decision of the game’s referee showed how far the sport is from getting a handle on the problem.

Yet that’s where we are after Day 1 of the 2014 World Cup — having to reconcile why a Brazilian attacker electing to flop on his back was able to sway the tournament’s opening match. Thanks to Fred’s antics, a 1-1 match eventually became a 3-1 win over Croatia, with great performances by Neymar and Oscar overshadowed by their teammate’s theatrics.

It’s part of my job to make sure Neymar and Oscar aren’t forgotten. Neymar scored twice in his World Cup debut, and Oscar, after it appeared as if he’d be marginalized on the flank, was one of the match’s two most influential players. As a team, Brazil may have failed to meet its own standards, but the flashes of brilliance for the team’s two most creative players bodes well for the team’s improvement.

Another part of my job is to try to depict the reality of the situation, and no matter how much we want to focus on the stars, it’d be disingenuous to overlook the influence the day’s two villains had on the result. If Fred’s malice hadn’t met Yuishi Nishimura’s mistake, we’d be talking about a Brazil draw.

[ MORE: Two Neymar goals, moment of controversy see Brazil start with 3-1 win over Croatia ]
[ MORE: Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia ]

The moment came in the 69th minute, when a movement down Brazil’s right gave Oscar a chance to find Fred near the spot. As the Selecao striker turned with Croatian defender Dejan Lovran on his back, Fred sensed his opportunity. Unfortunately for too many in this game, that meant trying to deceive the referee, and in this instance, that deception was rewarded. The ensuing penalty kick proved to be Brazil’s winning goal.

As terrible as that sounds, it’d be unfair to put too much blame on Fred’s shoulders. It’s easy to say he should be bound to a higher ethic, but unless a player’s safety is involved, the only ethic athletes ascribe to is a competitive one. Until there’s some disincentive to diving — something in the way the game is governed that makes it more viable for Fred to try to create a chance than take his luck with the official’s perspective — there’s only so much we can blame the player.

That leaves us with two culprits: Nishimura and the game itself, both of which deserve blame. Yet whereas one party’s mistake was a fault of commission, the other’s is a product of neglect.


Referee Yuichi Nishimura gives a penalty kick against Croatia during the opening game of the World Cup. Croatia, even at 1-1 when the call was made, went on to lose to Brazil, 3-1. (AP Photo/Fabrizio Bensch, Pool)

Nishimura surely thought he saw a foul. The question is why. There’s no angle of that play that even comes close to depicting a Lovren foul. In real-time, at full speed, or in slow motion, what was happening was so transparent as to be predictable.

We knew Fred would dive. We’ve seen that play so many times, we know to look for it. Again, the question is why — why didn’t Nishimura look for it, too?

With 63 games left in the tournament, FIFA has a chance to correct the problem. Nishimura’s World Cup may be done. And for Croatia, while they may have been robbed of a point today, the team has two more games to make up for the slight. If they don’t make the knockout round, they’ll have themselves to blame, too.

The more important problems come in the bigger picture. As much as we talk about diving, there is no real movement to get it out of the game. In fact, as globalization’s exposed us to more styles, more often, there’s a tendency to see diving from a different perspective. Augmenting the puritanical and impractical view we hear from England, we’re now exposed to more pragmatic justifications of diving. For some, it’s just part of the game.

But do we want to leave it as part of the game? If so, let’s stop talking about controversial calls and teams being wronged. Instead, let’s just accept this world of competitive chaos and embrace a liberal view. Unless something’s clearly in conflict with one of the game’s laws, let’s applaud a player’s ingenuity. Let’s embrace the limits.

[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]

If, however, people don’t want more calls like today’s, Fred needs a disincentive. There needs to be a bigger crackdown on simulation. There need to be stiffer penalties and more reviews, perhaps in real-time. The game has to start taking the issue seriously.

That it didn’t before today’s match in Sao Paulo left a lot of fans to wonder how one player, one official, and a lack of urgency were allowed to turn game one. And unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we have this conversation.

  1. tampabayirish - Jun 12, 2014 at 9:16 PM

    A red card for diving would quickly solve the problem. Of course there would be a few injustices. However it would be worth it to get diving out of the game.

    • hartfordhellions4ever - Jun 12, 2014 at 9:30 PM

      That would be a great start. Some sort of post game fine like the NBA uses for the player and team could add some teeth to the flopping rules also.

    • lyleoross - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:48 AM

      Shame won’t work at this point. The dive is endemic. I see it down to U8 games. Referees are gonna make mistakes, this wasn’t one, it was a crime, but mistakes happen. The only way to deal with it is post game. Look at the MLS, they post game fine and the impact is minimal. The punishment has to fit the crime. Take away the goal. This allows for a very different finish. Both Brazil and Croatia would know that the goal was going away post game, and you likely change game dynamics and hence the finish. You probably end up 1 : 1.

      If there is no goal, then the impact of the cheat is minimal so you leave it. In the case of a card, you reverse the card. Fred gets the yellow.

    • delegator - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      Even a retrospective red card would help — if Fred had to sit out the next two matches, maybe he wouldn’t be praising heaven for getting such a cheap and dishonest call.

    • sokorissokoris - Jun 13, 2014 at 11:02 AM

      Diving is cheating. Period. Full Stop. If players are caught doping or breaking other rules to enhance their performance illegally they receive match bans. That penalty almost certainly impacted the outcome of the match and cost Croatia at least a point. That can’t be undone, but Fred should get a two match ban at minimum.

      Not that the rest of the world gives a damn, but this is one of the reasons we Americans aren’t more enthusiastic about football. Too much cheating by players on the pitch. Diving, leg grabbing on ticky-tack challenges, acting as if you’re dying after a clean tackle, etc., cheapens a very beautiful game.

  2. eerslbs - Jun 12, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    never understood why they don’t give post game yellow or red cards for diving. Fines don’t and won’t work. If you start suspending players due to an in game dive after the fact (no matter if it impacted the outcome of the game), you’ll start seeing some hesitation from players before they flop.

    • grm35741 - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:10 AM

      It could start with SHAME. If the headline was ” Fred has no shame. Brazil steals first game”. Followed by post game review and tournament suspension for confirmed flops.
      Yes there will still be some flops that are not clear to the reviewers and therefore not punished but a player would think twice before a tournament suspension and his legacy of shame

      A golfer caught cheating is forever shamed. Winning with honor should have meaning.

  3. gunnybunny31 - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:11 PM

    It was all too predictable from the likes of Brazil. It’s too bad it swayed the outcome. Now, there will be many more flops in this WC.

    This playstyle is embarrassing. Glad I’m not a fan of this team.

  4. godsholytrousers - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    FIFA’s Pets, nothing more, always less.

  5. quagmate - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:05 AM

    Give each coach/manager one replay challenge for the big matches. Why the only people on the planet paid to get it right (officials) can’t see what the entire planet can see is wrong is mind boggling .

  6. lyleoross - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:36 AM

    Slow the replay, but balance it against a substitution. Then managers would not abuse it.

  7. jylick - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    I agree with tampabayirish.

  8. savoirlaire - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    I also think Scolari is making this all worse by defending the call, that is really undermining some of the righteous indignation about this diving/refereeing fiasco. He is really looking disgraceful at this point…the saying about keeping your mouth shut and having people think you are a fool vs. opening it and removing all doubt has never been more apropos!

  9. redloewi - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    FIFA should instruct the refs that if there is any doubt about a foul then it should be a no call. It appears too much that when in doubt, call the foul. Brazil is the host team AND FIFA would want them to win that first match. Not sure if there is direct influence but as we can see in the nomination of Qatar, there are influences. This kind of call cements doubts on the reality of matches and the ability of FIFA to operate without corruption. Croatia still had their chances but just could not finish them. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    Now on to Spain vs Netherlands!!

  10. soccerutd - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Mr. Farley – I agree with most of what you write about in this one. However Croatia was not robbed of a point, they got a loss, that is a 2 Point swing as Brazil has all 3. You also failed to mention a solid goal they scored was disallowed. The referee and the Brazilians were and continue to be disgusting. The rest of the world will catch up and we can love it when cheaters are beaten. Without their antics and the scared ref they would have never won that game. These days will end once these whimps can’t get away with this. I personally don’t think they can win without cheating.

  11. karchm - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:15 AM


    • karchm - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      Every other modern sport uses computer/TV assistance or instant replay for critical calls. Each coach should be allotted 1-2 challenges per game. If they lose the challenge then they lose a substitution. The clock should stop so challenges are not used to waste time deliberately. Instant replay would have clearly reversed the call here. They already have rules in FIFA for simulation which would have been the correct call here- a yellow for Fred.

  12. some1kj - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    In F1 racing, when an incident involving drivers on the track or in the pits, it gets investigated immediately by an experienced panel and a penalty is imposed within minutes. The same concept can be applied to football. The panel will be made up of 2 experienced referees and a reputable senior player. An incident like a questionable dive, ala Suarez, can be quickly reviewed, and either be declared a penalty and let the goal stand or take away the goal and red card the player. This can also be applied to questionable off side decisions, or off the ball incidents like elbowing or kicking when the referee is not looking. This will surely clean up the game in major competitions like the World Cup, the Champions league, the European Championship, etc.

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