Greece is victim of Swedish ref's badly bungled diving call

By Paul Gardner

At the very point of this Euro 2012 tournament when I was reminding myself how good the refereeing had been -- not a single really contentious decision -- up steps Sweden’s Jonas Eriksson to make a mockery of that thought.

Eriksson’s decision, at the 61st minute of the Greece vs. Russia game, to give Giorgos Karagounis a yellow card for diving was almost bad enough to cancel out all the good stuff that had gone before.

The decision itself was atrocious enough. But the consequence of it -- that Karagounis, the captain and an inspirational figure on a Greek team that is not exactly awash with such players, will be suspended for Greece’s quarterfinal game reaches almost tragic dimensions.

I have, for over a decade now -- ever since the clamor against divers induced FIFA to include in the 1999 rulebook a compulsory yellow card for “any simulating action” -- been closely studying every one of these calls that I have come across. The games I’ve looked at cover the entire soccer spectrum -- from all over the world, club games, World Cup games, youth games.

I have not kept statistics, but my guess is that I must have studied, closely, more than 100 such calls. OK -- I’m sitting here with all the advantages of a non-pressure situation, not to mention replays and freeze frames. But the objections that I have to these calls are not really built on the use of those technical aids.

Right away, I can say, without any hesitation, that a high proportion of these calls -- as many as half of them -- are flat-out wrong. When you add in the dubious calls -- ones for which the evidence of diving is so feeble as to make the call highly questionable -- I am left with this: that up to 75 percent of the diving calls should not have been made.

Right at the top of that worrying 75% come calls like the one that Eriksson made against Greece. Forget the replays. Even during the live action it was absolutely crystal clear that there was a high likelihood of contact between Karagounis and the Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich. This because as Karagounis dribbled the ball, Ignashevich clearly stuck out his left leg across Karagounis’s path.

My question to referee Eriksson is how he could decide (and Eriksson had his yellow card out in record time), that there was no contact? Because that is the only possible explanation that would validate his decision. I cannot see how Eriksson could have been at all certain that this was a dive -- and if he’s not certain, then he should not make the call.

But there are evidently other factors at work in a referee’s mind when simulation looms. Firstly, there is the suspicion that referees -- reacting to FIFA’s warnings and the general diving witch-hunt atmosphere -- are actively looking for diving incidents. In other words their mindset is not to allow any doubts: if it looks like diving, then it must be diving, so flash the yellow.

On the grounds of unlikelihood, improbability, and just plain lack of convincing evidence, Eriksson’s call -- even without benefit of replays - is a stinker.

But the replays show, unarguably, that Ignashevich made substantial contact with Karagounis, did, in fact, trip him.

The word simulation does not appear in the rules themselves, but in the “Interpretation” addendum. It is a physical action by a player, and obviously it has to be intentional. There can be no such thing as accidental simulation, when the whole point of the action, as described in the rulebook, is an attempt “to deceive the referee."

In making a simulation call, then, the referee is called upon to read the player’s mind. He is asked to make a decision that labels the offender a cheat. That is quite a responsibility and I have every sympathy with the referee on these occasions. But my sympathy is heavily overshadowed by the frequently cavalier way that referees handle these calls.

Yellow cards for diving ought to be given only when the referee is virtually certain -- shall we say 90% certain? -- that the player involved is deliberately cheating. By those, admittedly draconian, standards, Eriksson’s call against Karagounis looks almost frivolous.

But it is far from being a frivolous matter, because -- quite aside from the unwarranted suspension of Karagounis -- it also carries a more sinister taint. Another of the factors that has emerged quite clearly during my attention to the details of diving calls is that they can be used by referees to avoid making a penalty-kick call.

As the Karagounis incident occurred inside the Russian penalty area, referee Eriksson can also be suspected of chickening out on the penalty call, and then trying to justify his pusillanimity by flashing the yellow.

This is what I totally fail to understand about the refereeing attitude to these calls. The high percentage of wrong calls has to be known to them. It has to be known to an international referee like Eriksson. Just as he has to know, by now, that he made a wretched call against Karagounis, turning the victim into the wrongdoer ... a travesty of what he should have done.

One might take a moment or two to consider the player on the receiving end of this injustice. Karagounis was clearly incensed, appealing to his Greek shirt, making frantic religious signs -- and his anger went on for some time, boiling up to the point where one feared he might well goad Eriksson into giving him a second yellow. Karagounis eventually calmed down -- but he was surely justified at least some venting of indignation at Eriksson’s flagrantly biased call.

I do not know whether the Greeks can appeal a yellow card. But if  the card cannot be repealed, the injustice of the subsequent suspension should be. Karagounis should be on the field in Greece’s quarterfinal. And Eriksson should be on a plane back to Sweden.

11 comments about "Greece is victim of Swedish ref's badly bungled diving call".
  1. Wayne Norris, June 17, 2012 at 12:41 p.m.

    No contencious decisions? How about the two yellows to the Greek defender in game 1?.

    The second had the forward already slipping!!

  2. Leland Price, June 17, 2012 at 1:11 p.m.

    Give me a break. The Greeks flop more than a fish on dry land. The call was appropriate because of the Greek team's history of theatrics - and this player in particular. The Greeks got every break in the book and didn't deserve to go through.

  3. Edgar Soudek, June 17, 2012 at 1:12 p.m.

    I can truly say that I watched that game impartially; several repetition show quite clearly that the Greek forward raised his left leg up about half-length on the Russian defender's
    leg, thus - as it seemed to me and several friends who were watchin with me - deliberately "hooking" himself, and then diving nicely forward...
    I agree with Mr. Gardner about the card & suspension, but disagree about his assessment of the Russian defender having fouled...

  4. Daniel Clifton, June 17, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.

    I have watched this replay a number of times and it looked to me like whatever Koragounis did he was going to get tripped. The Russian defender's leg was stuck out under him, to say that he deliberately stuck his leg up high to get tripped is ridiculous. If he had run with his leg low he was still going to be tripped, even more so, by raising his leg he almost got over the Russian defender's leg. I agree with PG this should have been a foul and a penalty kick. The fifth ref was on the goal line and you can see him in one of the replays from behind. Why didn't he get involved. He had a clear view of what happened.

  5. James Madison, June 17, 2012 at 10:28 p.m.

    1. Sometimes officials see what they anticipate seeing. 2. The goal-line official is just that---is the ball all the way over the goal line or not, particularly if it is between the posts and under the bar. Unlike the AR, I believe the duties do not include advising the CR about fouls and misconduct.

  6. Carlos Thys, June 18, 2012 at 4:24 a.m.

    I don't mind this situation and discussion being raised as it is one that certainly deserves much attention. But I am going to disagree with the viewpoint of Mr. Gardner. He writes, "My question to referee Eriksson is how he could decide (and Eriksson had his yellow card out in record time), that there was no contact?" Mr. Gardner, I would submit that Eriksson is not blowing his whistle and issuing a card to Georgios Karagounis because he believes there is NO contact, rather Eriksson believes there is some contact but that the Greek Karagounis WANTED the contact so as to go down and force the referee's hand, i.e. a penalty kick for Greece and a yellow (most likely) for the Russian defender. Karagouins is an old salt warrior in these contests; he knows just how to achieve a free kick on the pitch where you want it and, yes, in a situation like this a penalty call. I firmly believe that he was wishing himself fouled in that moment. And all his theatrics and wild gesticulations thereafter were just that -- theatrics. He knew he could do these demonstrative vaudeville-esque antics because he knows that the replays will show "contact." The problem is that is exactly what Karagounis wanted. I agree in full with Edgar Soudek's comment above. I don't mind this discussion at all, but let's not be so harsh on referees that have to (within 1/8th of a second) see what we at home in the recliner still don't see. And the way the players spend 90+ minutes of "working" the referees for this or that decision is still pathetic. It's a wonder the referees keep their overall good demeanor. Just watch the Italian defenders with their "put on faces," hand & arm gesticulations and false smiles (another Georgio, the Italian Juve defender Chellini, is the new master of this art form) -- tomorrow.

  7. John Harris, June 18, 2012 at 7:32 a.m.

    In the first half, Karagounis put on a disgusting display of simulation. Every time a Russian came close to touching him, he went to ground and writhed in agony. He worked assiduously to dupe the ref. How can you fault the ref for thinking his was doing the same thing in the penalty box? Simulation in the penalty box richly deserves a yellow card.

  8. Charles O'Cain, June 18, 2012 at 9:03 a.m.

    I wonder if Mr. Gardner has done a study of the converse situation: what percentage of penalty awards are "unequivocal fouls", and not (as in this instance, in my opinion) attacking player-initiated contact with the defender followed by some theatrical flop to CONvince the referee to make the call? I would much rather see the attacking player make a genuine effort to score the goal rather than to "win the penalty" (why that foolish terminology? every penalty is a loss for the game. who would rather see a match decided from the spot rather than from open play?). Did Karagounis appear to make any genuine effort to maintain balance after the "contact" ? Greek tragedy indeed, on stage in Europe.

  9. Kenneth Elliott, June 18, 2012 at 9:52 a.m.

    What sealed it for the Greek player, especially in the context of the time elapsed during the event and the referee's view of the proceedings, was when he failed to try to run through the trip. He drug his foot on the ground intentionally, obviously. That is what the referee saw, and that was the telltale sign of intent to deceive. If the Greek player had not done that the referee may well have called a trip/foul, but more likely would not have called anything because, as Paul alludes, referees are brave outside the box, but not so much inside it.

  10. David Mont, June 18, 2012 at 2:52 p.m.

    Can anyone then explain why the referee didn't give a yellow card for a much more obvious dive by Zhirkov a little later in the game ( Btw, the Russian commentators in the video agreed that there was no foul.

  11. saki Hristidis, June 18, 2012 at 4:01 p.m.

    What i don't understand is that why would an experienced player like Karagounis fake and fall down when he could have a clear (easier than a penalty) shot at goal if he didn't.

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