Sunday, July 4, 2010

Soccer Explained: Diving

I've decided to start a series about soccer to explain some aspects of the game that for those who don't follow soccer (although it may be enjoyed by fans of the sport just as well.) Perhaps the first entry is the most ambitious, but I believe diving remains one of the most controversial,and ostentatious, parts of the game. I must give a disclaimer, however, because I hate diving. I think it is dishonest, makes the players look like wimps, and is a general black eye to the sport. Yet, I understand why players do it.

Not every player takes dives. It seems to be more common in certain cultures than others. My most disliked international team, Italy, is a quintessential example of persistent flopping. Don't get my wrong, Italy is an amazing soccer team and one that should be feared on the pitch, but they take more dives than the kids at my local swimming pool.

To understand diving, one must understand the importance of goals in soccer. Yeah, yeah, you need goals to win. . . more than the other team. . . even John Madden gets that part of the game. But when so many games come down to a single goal difference, a single goal is HUGE. A single goal in a soccer game weighs heavier than a single touchdown, home run, 3-pointer, or try because it is so rare. It is not uncommon for only one goal to be scored in a game (90+ minutes of play.) So any chance players get to take a free kick at the goal, they will take.

And this is why players take dives, especially in the penalty box. Free kicks are golden opportunities put a point on the board. All that stands in the way of the spot of the foul and the goal is usually four players covering their family jewels and a keeper that can barely see around the wall. They are better than corner kicks as they allow players to take direct shots on goal or pass to another open player to take a shot. A foul in the box is almost an automatic goal through a penalty kick (although, if anyone saw the Spain-Paraguay match, PKs are less than automatic.)

What is maddening about diving is that it seems to grow more dramatic with each passing season. Players' inner-thespians come out as soon as they think they can draw a foul and often they end up looking ridiculous. One of the more refreshing moments of a Portugal match last week was seeing the midfielder Tiago get a yellow card for taking a dive in the box. Too bad they can't give those out in the NBA as well.

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