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Topical today at the World Cup: When 'cheating' isn’t cheating

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Uruguay's Luis Suarez at the moment of truth ... a moment people will talk about for years.
Uruguay's Luis Suarez at the moment of truth ... a moment people will talk about for years.

There were two big talking points from South Africa yesterday involving referees and players bending the rules.

I know there’s a lot of frustration when someone’s favorite team goes out – and I recognize that Brazil is a favorite team for many soccer lovers. And there’s probably some frustration because Ghana was a bit of a darling as the last, lone ranger among African entrants. Plus, it was just so wrenching to see any team go out that way, so tantalizingly close to going through.

But I just don’t think there was anything wrong with what went on with the Netherlands or Uruguay wins Friday.

As for the Dutch, did Arjen Robben go down too easily at times? Probably. On the other hand, what choice does an attacking player have when he’s met with brute force and efforts at intimidation rather than legal, physical defending?

And accusations of "diving" really are too much.

There’s a difference between "diving" and what often goes on with attackers dealt with in such a thuggish manner. Drawing attention to fouls to help ensure that the referee does his job is not "diving."

The action in the 52nd minute of Holland’s win illustrates the point perfectly. Brazilian left fullback Michel Bastos, already carrying a caution, cynically scythed at Robben once again. It was a foul, although Bastos didn’t completely get Robben all the way. The Dutch winger tried to avoid the contact, and then did make the most of the situation in highly theatrical fashion. So, is that cheating?  Robben was fouled by a player who had been such a thug already he really should have been sent off. Ten minutes later, in the Guardian’s "As it happens," blog, here’s what the writer had to say.

"Bastos leaves the pitch before he can get himself sent off. Which, let's face it, he should have been already. Gilberto Melo comes on in his stead."

So, again, I don’t see the problem here. If Robben (or anyone else) does that thing were they throw their body into a defender looking for a foul, or kicks out at a defender as they go by in order to draw a whistle for "tripping," that’s something entirely different.

But Bastos was making a point to hit Robben at every opportunity. The rules of this game are quite clear here: when a player has position, it’s illegal to run up from behind and hit, whack or kick the guy. If the defender has some chance of gaining position and attempts to win the ball, then being physical is OK. But Bastos repeatedly hit and kicked Robben from behind. In that case, I don’t see any point in an attacking player straining to keep his balance. He’s probably just going to lose the ball – thereby rewarding the defender for doing nothing skillful, but for breaking the rules.

The other situation is a little more complicated. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez definitely did a very naughty thing. On the other hand, he got caught, so the game worked the way it should. Having been caught, this is a completely different conversation.

When players break the rules, they are taking a calculated gamble. Suarez certainly was. He gambled that by stopping the ball and preventing a sure goal, even at the expense of expulsion, he was giving his side a chance. A slim one, but a chance.

It happened to pay off. But players do that all over the field, all game long. Every intentional foul is a calculated risk. It’s the referee’s job to ensure that these actions are met with the appropriate punishment. Suarez was sent off andGhana was awarded a penalty kick.

It’s a tough situation, but I just cannot judge Robben nor Suarez too harshly.