Yet another utterly wrong diving call

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.

15 comments about "Yet another utterly wrong diving call".
  1. Millwall America, August 2, 2012 at 5:41 a.m.

    Paul says: "It was, as is so often the case with these diving incidents, an awful call." An observation: while it's not the Olympics, last season in the English Premier League there were 19 yellow cards issued for diving -- out of 380 games played. That's *one* yellow card for every *twenty* games played, or roughly one diving call every two weeks across the entire league. I think it's safe to say that the English league would be one of the harshest punishers of simulation in the world -- so let me just say that if Paul thinks the real problem with soccer these days is that referees call diving *too much* he is absolutely out of his mind.

  2. Charles O'Cain, August 2, 2012 at 7:15 a.m.

    Again Mr Gardner's war on defenders and referees. So quick to employ TV slo-mo replay to chastise the offenders. Will he also watch carefully for punishable offenses by attacking players and demand retrospective yellow cards for the many obvious "simulations" we see (I'm thinking of the forward rolls with two and a half twists we are so used to while watching Spain/Barcelona - such an obviously unnatural physical response to a trip even if there was some minute touch that it MUST be termed simulation). Surely there were more than 19 "dives" in the EPL last year, so the obvious problem is that the refs are not producing ENOUGH yellow cards, not too few. So they get a few wrong here and there. The problem is cheating, and the risk of punishment must go up if it is to be controlled, both in the box and outside. Same goes for shirt pulling. Why is Mr Gardner not concerned with this aspect?

  3. Tom Nilles, August 2, 2012 at 8:24 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner continues to suffer from "perfect 20/20 slo-mo hindsight". Try making that call in real time Paul. That's if you could even find the nerve to don a referee kit at all.

  4. Millwall America, August 2, 2012 at 8:28 a.m.

    And bear in mind the EPL had Didier Drogba last year.

  5. Albert Harris, August 2, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.

    Interesting that all the responses so far are focused either on the number of diving calls in the EPL or the difficulty of refereeing and not on the incident itself and Balboa's reaction to it. At the time I saw the incident, I was inclined to agree with JP that it was a doubtful call and if not a penalty, at the least incident contact that didn't rise to penalty level and a no call; certainly not worthy of a yellow for simulation. Wouldn't be a ref for all the tea in China because those folks need talent. However, I don't think I could be a worse commentator than Balboa. He was awful. Only one man's opinion of course.

  6. John Bolger, August 2, 2012 at 10:05 a.m.

    You don't have to have a broken foot to be a trip. Oh my God I'm agreeing with Paul.

  7. Millwall America, August 2, 2012 at 10:08 a.m.

    Albert Harris, I didn't see the incident itself so I can't comment on it. What I can comment on is the fact that Paul has posted multiple columns recently complaining about diving calls, so it's clear he thinks that the frequency of diving calls is a problem in the game. It's easy to demolish that argument by pointing to a few simple statistics -- which is why Paul's argument relies on anecdotes and avoids statistics like the plague. Now, Paul is entitled to the opinion that an average of one yellow card for diving every twenty games is too much, I'm just not going to agree with him on that. I think it will improve the game if leagues and FAs encourage referees to call diving more often, even though doing so will occasionally result in bad calls.

  8. Kent James, August 2, 2012 at 10:31 a.m.

    I only saw the play once on a highlight (no slow motion replay) so I cannot say definitively one way or the other on this particular call, but in the same way PG argues Balboa's comments indicate his predilection to punish "divers", so does PG's comment indicate is bias towards forwards. As soon as I saw the highlight, I knew Paul would write a column about it Let's assume Myers 'stepped on" Sandro's foot. Is that automatically a foul, and therefore a PK? I think not. People get stepped on all the time. Physical contact doth not a foul make (maybe PG would disagree with that?). For such contact to warrant a foul being called, the contact should force the offensive player to fall (to trip him) or somehow prevent him from playing normally. Normal contact that forces a player off balance a bit should not be called (assuming the offensive player can recover and play is not affected). The key to the incident is what Sandro does with his other foot; in this case, instead of stepping forward and continuing his run, he chooses to leave the foot that was not contacted back, which causes him to fall (he essentially chooses to go down). A yellow card may be harsh, because there was contact, but awarding a PK would have been wrong, and that is what Sandro was looking for. To his credit, Sandro did not roll around and act as if his leg had been cut off. As a ref, I probably would have seen this as a no call, but I do think Sandro was trying to make incidental contact look like a foul in order to get a PK. I'd be wiling to bet if that same contact had been made in Sandro's defensive third, he would have somehow managed to stay up and maintain possession of the ball. As others have pointed out, refereeing in real time ain't easy, and in this case, the ref had a great view (and I doubt he was hoping to eject a player), so I'd give the benefit of the doubt to the ref.

  9. Carl Walther, August 2, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.

    I usually turn the sound off for FSC and ESPN2 covered games. There really is no reason to get upset by listening to idiots blabbering on incorrectly about players they don't like, and giving unwarranted complements to players they do. e.g. Beckham,etc.

  10. Raffy Afarian, August 2, 2012 at 12:36 p.m.

    First of all, I'd like to say that I agree with your assessment of this particular situation. I think we are already seeing less diving than we used to. If some of these bad calls are what it takes to slow down the diving, then so be it. I call it collateral damage. The diving witch hunt will slow down after the epidemic of diving is curbed. I'm not too worried about it and I suggest you shouldn't either for now.
    Another interesting point since we split hairs here, I was in a referee recertification class recently when someone asked the instructor (a 50 year referee veteran), "how many red cards have you given?" He said, "In all my years I've given one red card but I have shown hundreds!!" The point is, you don't give anyone a red or yellow card, you show it to them. Just trying to help the masses understand the game from a referee's point of view for once.
    Why is it that there are no ex- or current referee commentators? Maybe they can help balance the points of view from someone that has been in those positions rather than an ex-player who will always have disdain for referees.

  11. R2 Dad, August 2, 2012 at 1:02 p.m.

    Agree with Kent, no call, though I can understand the referee's card after watching Sandro's straight leg freeze in mid air and stay in that position until he goes to ground--that's one of the diving give-aways. Players do this to ensure the referee "sees" the foul, but it's never convincing and actually quite comical. As I understand Raffy's comment, "giving"="showing"? It's kind of semantics, isn't it? I would point out that some referees find it useful to keep both cards in the same pocket so that if they come out of the pocket after the whistle, the offending player sees both cards and is not sure what he's going to get. This may be perceived as a ruse on the part of the referee, but may have its uses when dealing with players in a charged environment.

  12. Thomas Hosier, August 2, 2012 at 5:54 p.m.

    I have heard too many "analysts" former player super critics during these Olympic games .... they are really quite boring. We hear much about how it was back in their day. As for diving ... it stinks ... but a trip is a trip and this was a trip. It doesn't take much for a player running full tilt to be knocked off balance and go head over asshole ... still the writhing and contortions some players go into get attention are disgusting. But this case it is either a no call or a penalty. My opinion ... it should have been a penalty and Balboa should be red carded for his blabbering BS.

  13. Claudia Da Silva, August 2, 2012 at 11:28 p.m.

    Thanks Paul!!!
    Finally somebody that comes forward to say how stupid the comment from Balboa sounded...I was watching the game, they repeated the sequence at least 3 times and in one of the comments, Balboa said that "yes, he was stepped on, but he could've moved on...."...SORRY, but in the rules I've always known from soccer, if you ARE stepped on, it means you were fouled...So, the story ends right here - if a fault was committed and it was inside the box, it's a pk... No problem if the ref misses it, but then, don't come and say that the guy did any diving....or you give the pk or you pretend you did not see it!
    You know what...Brazil has a lot of deep in the squad, it will not matter, but the discussion here is that it's better you do not say anything as a commentator instead of just putting words out there that do not make any sense!!!
    I wish the cards had been distributed earlier for the number of faults committed (#5 of New Zealand was lucky in this sense) - amazing to see that a lot of times those statistics are not there for a country that LOVES numbers!
    By the way, number of faults, no matter if from same player or not, but committed on a single player (poor Neymar in this case), should be carded according to the rules....

  14. Ramon Creager, August 3, 2012 at 10:27 a.m.

    You don't need to have seen the incident, or not be biased towards/against forwards to understand Balboa was way out in the weeds (provided he really said what he is quoted as saying here; and I don't see anyone contesting it). Balboa condemns himself as ignorant with his very own words. The rules are simple and clear, but here is Balboa just making shit up. "He was moving away from goal", "you'd better be hurt" (what, are we going to hear "'tis just a flesh wound!" next?), etc. A foul in the box is a penalty, unless Balboa decides you weren't manly-man enough to deserve it! So now we have a whole new set of rules we're using, that we get to make up on the fly. We're never going to play the beautiful game until this nonsense is banished at all levels with all the attendant ridicule and contempt it deserves.

  15. Ken Jamieson, August 3, 2012 at 3:14 p.m.

    Marcelo Balboa was a Defender, that should explain a lot of his mindset. No one ever said players understand the Laws of the Game, the only play the game.

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