By Paul Gardner
Brazil will have to play its Olympic quarterfinal against Honduras without Alex Sandro. The defender, who plays for FC Porto, has to sit this one out, thanks to a referee decision in the 76th minute of the game against New Zealand.
The referee -- Bakary Gassama from Gambia -- decided that Santos had dived and was quick to pull out the yellow card. As he had already cautioned Sandro only four minutes earlier, Sandro had to go -- and therefore incur the automatic one-game suspension. Not necessarily a great loss to Brazil -- Alex Sandro did not play at all in Brazil’s first two games.
But it is the referee’s call that worries. It was, as is so often the case with these diving incidents, an awful call. Alex Sandro was clearly tripped by Tim Myers.
In this case, the referee was ideally placed to see what happened, with a close-up, unobstructed view. Alex Sandro was dribbling the ball, with Myers running alongside him, to his left. Myers then moved in -- with his left foot -- swinging it across his own body, and then across Alex Sandro to tread on his right foot as it hit the ground. Forget the ball, Myers got nowhere near it. A blatantly obvious trip, and therefore a penalty. It seems more than likely that referee Gassama made his diving call to avoid giving the PK -- we’ve seen this dereliction of duty before.
We now switch to the commentator’s booth, where JP Dellacamera, to his credit, was doubtful about the call. His analyst, Marcelo Balboa, was in no doubt -- in fact sounded noisily gung-ho about it, and proceeded to deliver what has to be the most confused and laughably inaccurate and incorrect “analysis” I have ever heard on a soccer telecast. And I’ve heard plenty.
Balboa started off well enough, saying he couldn’t tell if Alex Sandro had dived or not, he needed to “see that again.” But before the replay came up, Balboa turned psychologist with “I’d say, from the way he’s walking off the field, I’d have to say it’s probably a dive.”
This was based on the fact that Alex Sandro was walking briskly. And Balboa’s reasoning was: “... you’re going down in the box, you’d better be hurt, you’d better be clipped. Let’s see (as the replay came up) ... he’s stepped on ... No, that’s not a penalty. He’s going away from goal. He gets stepped on all the time ... look at him, look at him, you see him on the ground looking at the referee ... that’s not a penalty ... if he would have got his leg swept out from underneath him ... I think the ref did a good job right there.”
So we have the rules of soccer according to Balboa; he has seen, and admitted to, the fact that Alex Sandro was stepped on (i.e. tripped) but ... it was not a foul, and not a penalty, because Alex Sandro was moving away from the goal (though it would be more accurate to say he was moving across the goal). Also not a foul because the player on the ground was “looking at the referee.” Also not a foul because Alex Sandro wasn’t hurt and didn’t need a stretcher or a blood transfusion to get him off the field.
What the non-Balboa rulebook has to say is actually quite terse. For a start, there is no mention of the world “diving.” In the Interpretation and Guidelines section, there is a long list of “unsporting behavior” actions for which a player must be given a yellow card. The one that concerns us refers to a player who “attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation).” (It’s also worth noting that the word “embellishment” is not used).
That wording makes a nonsense of Balboa’s main points -- Alex Sandro did not feign injury (indeed, it’s one of Balboa’s complaints that he walked swiftly off the field); and Alex Sandro did not “pretend to have been fouled” -- he had no need to, because he was fouled, or stepped on, in Balboa’s version. Which means there was no “attempt to deceive the referee.”
After JP had given his opinion that he didn’t think there was an obvious dive, Balboa returned to the attack with more inanity: “To me, even though you got stepped on, you’re going away from goal, you rolled on the ground, you’re already looking at the referee ... that means you’re diving.”
I need to point out that Alex Sandro pitched forward, landed on his side and then twisted onto his back before getting up. He did not “roll over” in any exaggerated way, not at all.
Probably aware that his case was getting thinner and thinner, Balboa returned to the injury angle: “If you’re really hurt and you really got tripped and you got stepped on, your foot would be quite sore and you’d be grabbing your foot, so to me that is a dive, and I think the referee did a great job.” A spectacularly silly argument implying that if Alex Sandro had faked an injury, then Balboa would believe he had been fouled.
A little later came a close-up replay making the trip even clearer ... at which point Balboa became mindlessly and offensively cocky, remarking, as Alex Sandro goes down “Look, look, he’s already looking there. He knows it, look, look at him, he knows it, when he’s walking off the field, look, he knows it, he embellished and the referee was right there.”
So now we have this vague notion of embellishment added to the charges. Balboa concluded his hopelessly muddled analysis by adopting a position that sounds like a defense of Alex Sandro! “You’re up 3-0. Why? Why do you dive in the box? He already has a yellow card ... there was just no need for him to dive.”
Quite. Which makes it unlikely that Alex Sandro did dive. But Balboa seems determined to convict him. Balboa, of course, was a defender in his playing days. Everything he is arguing above -- all of which is either wrong by the rules of the game, or quite simply an affront to common sense -- works to the advantage of defenders, and to physical defenders at that. Now there’s a surprise.