20-26 June 2014 #712

Performance Art

The tournament is gaining notoriety for play-acting, embellishment, flopping, faking, diving and cheating.
Someplace Else by Matt Miller

In Kathmandu it’s easy to see who the stars of the World Cup are. Hundreds of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo jerseys crowd the streets. But the dramatic performances of a majority of other players and nations are getting plenty of attention during the late-night broadcasts.

The first round of matches featured only a single scoreless draw. However the tournament is getting less notoriety for high-scoring and entertaining football, than an epidemic of play-acting, embellishment, flopping, faking, diving and cheating.

Setting the tone in the opening match between the hosts Brazil and Croatia, Brazilian striker Fred earned a penalty when he jumped onto his backside, kicking his feet high into the air like a cartoon character who stepped on a banana peel, after the Croatian defender between him and the goal grabbed his shoulder.

Fred’s dive ranks as the worst in a tournament and sport where this is the norm because of its impact on the outcome of the game. Brazil took a 2-1 lead in the 71st minute of their eventual 3-1 victory, and Croatia accused Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura of favoritism towards the host nation.

It came at a crucial moment of the game, but Fred’s theatrics had more than just one element of a quality dive that scores high with Olympic judges, and low with fans. Dives are judged on a combination of elaborate and difficult techniques including: contorted facial expressions, hang time, jazz hands, knee and ankle grab positions, revolutions in the air, tumbles, face clutching, volume and pitch of screams, and nation of origin.

US Olympic swimming and diving coach Drew Johansen told an Australian newspaper “Similar to the sport of diving, it’s all about getting the judges attention. I think Fred’s use of his arms really got the job done on that dive. I would score at 9.5 on the Olympic scale.” Add to the fact that he plays for the home nation, that’s probably a 10.0 performance.

The judges of each perceived dive are the millions of football fans who have taken to Twitter to air their grievances. Each game and kick of the ball is an onslaught of 140 characters or less, raking Diego Costa of Spain for a dive in the box, or equal numbers praising him or other nations’ honour on the exact same play. Every play is judged with equal scrutiny.

The six penalties awarded in the first round of matches were to Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, Germany, France and Algeria. It’s not that all six penalties weren’t earned, but save for Algeria, that who’s-who of elite football nations certainly breeds suspicions. The first half penalties didn’t help Spain and Uruguay from 5-1, and 3-1 thrashings however.

On the other hand, A New York Times article this week argued American values like honesty and battling through contact, more than their inability to dive, is the reason the valiant Americans don’t dive in matches. Other American problems include making too much money, and having too much freedom.

In addition to earning a penalty earlier in the first half, 24 year-old German forward Thomas Muller groped his face, crumpled to his knees and yelled out after receiving a hand to his shoulder region from hot tempered Portuguese defender Pepe. His rash reaction to the theatrics earned him a red card. Ethical or not the performances earned Muller a hat trick, Germany a dominating victory over a 10 man squad from Portugal, and a highlight of Cristiano Ronaldo angrily chasing down an official, not playing brilliantly.

The most spectacular dive of the tournament wasn’t embellishment at all, but a brilliant diving header from Dutchman Robin Van Persie against Spain. However most of the matches are a reminder that those watching at home playing the “Diving Drinking Game” will feel worse in the morning than the losing teams.

Read also:

The best World Cup ever? It looks like so

The beautiful mirage Marcela Mora y Araujo

When football comes home Shobhan Saxena

In goal we trust Shobhan Saxena

Brazil's own goals Matt Slaughter and Janna Remes

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