So you’re in the last minute of extra time, a few seconds away from a penalty shoot-out and the opportunity to put your country into the World Cup Semi Final. You’re defending a set piece, your keeper is beaten and the ball is coming at your head. Do you try and head it, knowing you may miss it and your team are out?

Or do you put your hands up and punch it out the goal, knowing you will inevitably sent off, but your keeper has a chance with the penalty? This is the very scenario which must have gone through Luis Saurez’s head last night. Or rather, it would have been if he’d had any chance to think about it.

Predictably, Suarez has been labelled a cheat, compared to both Maradona and Thierry Henry, and FIFA are discussing extending his ban to ensure he would miss the Final if Uruguay manage to get there. Is this justified? I’m not so sure.

Deliberate handball on the goal line carries a very severe punishment already. It leads to a penalty kick and a red card, unlike a handball further up the field. If the officials had seen Henry’s handball, he’d have just received a yellow card. Same for Maradona, yet both of these incidents were just as game-changing as Suarez’s incident.

Of course, Ireland fans may view this very differently to me. Suarez stopped a certain goal through ill means, and although Ghana had an opportunity to punish him with the penalty, they did not. Indeed, I remember a similar incident in an Old Firm game a couple of years back, where Bougherra handled a Nakamura shot on the line and was dismissed, only for Scott McDonald to miss the penalty. I certainly understand the feeling of being “cheated”, but then I blamed McDonald for not scoring the penalty.

So being able to see both sides of the argument, where do I stand? Well, I think if FIFA are looking to clampdown on cheating, this is completely the wrong place to start. I’d start by sending Joan Capdevilla, the Spanish left back, back to Spain with his tail between his legs for his disgraceful piece of cheating against Portugal.

The game we love is suffering from a cancer of players diving, rolling around, attempting to con the referee and get players booked and sent off. Watch any match and you’ll see this is the case. I can almost guarantee that an incident of “gamesmanship” will occur in today’s match between Argentina and Germany. Now this is something for FIFA to tackle, much like it was something for UEFA to tackle last summer, but they lost their nerve and gave Eduardo (and every other diver, for that matter) a reprieve.┬áIs football now a game where conning the referee is “clever” or is that an act of cheating that needs to be punished? If it’s the former, then the soul of the beautiful game is really in trouble.

Handball on the goal-line already has a harsh penalty written into the rules of the game, yet handball is not what is killing the game. Some would argue that it is too late to stop players diving, it is now “part of the game” and we should just accept it. I cannot and I will not, so for as long as I have to I will continue to highlight the impotence of the game’s governing bodies until they take action against those conning us all.

Time to pick your side, folks.

Advertisements

So we are a week into the tournament, everybody is buzzing with excitement and marvelling at the fabulous football on display night after night; enthralled by brilliant goals and revelling in the atmosphere of the greatest competition on Earth. Oh, what’s that? No you’re not? Most games have been rubbish, hardly any goals have been scored and the vuvuzelas are driving you up the wall? Thank Yoda it’s not just me!

Before I go on I’d like to apologise up front; I feel a rant coming on, but I’ll be as brief as possible.

I’m generally the World Cup’s biggest fan. I do everything I can to watch as many matches as possible, from the big boys of Brazil, Spain and Holland to the minnows of New Zealand and North Korea. I’ve watched 15 of the 16 games so far, and feel quite deflated about the quality of the tournament.

OK, early on in the competition, teams will feel that playing for a draw is acceptable. After all, getting off the mark in the first game is vital, and how many times do you hear the phrase “you don’t want to peak too soon”? So maybe teams are going all “George Graham” on us, and not having a go? Possibly.

Quite simply, the tournament has really lacked any genuine quality. The question we have to ask is why?

Many players, managers and pundits alike have blamed the official ‘Jabulani’ ball, claiming it is difficult to control and causes goalkeepers major issues. Makers Adidas have described the Jabulani as being “the roundest football ever”, in an effort to lead to more goals. Now that I can understand, because let’s face it, any time ‘keepers are having problems is good for us as fans. We all want to see goals, and spectacular 30-yarders are particularly special for us. So ‘keepers struggling is fantastic.

But then we’ve also heard that the ball is “difficult to control”, with players from many squads largely condemning it. However, surely I’m not the only fan to think ‘will you just shut up and get on with it’? To me the excuse ‘the ball is too round’ is up there with Ol’ Red Nose’s excuse about United’s players not being able to see each other in their grey shirts!

Adidas have instead hit out at the players, and their preparation. They blame a combination of a lack of practise and the game being played at altitude. Indeed, I can certainly understand the altitude argument. Every rugby fan (and physicist, for that matter) knows that matches played at altitude mean longer goal kicking is possible. (Just look at Mourne Steyn for the Springboks during last year’s Lions tour) I refuse to accept that football management and players were not aware of this phenomenon, so they should have prepared for it. On this note I unreservedly agree with Adidas.

My only quibble about the ball is the fact that Adidas supplied it to the Germans six months before the World Cup kicked off. Understandable I suppose, a German company attempting to aid the German national team, but it’s not really in the spirit of fair play. It would have been nice to see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard “getting their eye in” with the new ball, as it would for the rest of the world. However, it is just a football. If you’re being paid the amount some of these players are, you should be able play with tennis ball, let alone a new light size 5 football. Just look at Maradona doing just that below (apologies for the music, by the way!)

Then of course there is the vuvuzelas. The BBC have apparently received 545 complaints about the vuvuzelas in their coverage, and players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have joined the calls for FIFA to demand they are banned. Now I will admit the vuvuzelas are an irritant, but the BBC receiving complaints just seems ludicrous. What exactly do people expect the Beeb to do? Complete waste of effort from 545 people, in my humble opinion.

However, I can understand the players voicing their criticisms, even if I’m not sure they’re valid. Obviously, deafening noise makes communication difficult for the players, but if players can talk to each other in Old Firm games, or the Milan Derby, then their argument is null and void.

No, the way the quality of the tournament will improve is simply tactics. Managers need to remove the shackles on players, adopt a more attacking mentality and just let them go for it. As always, I’m optimistic this will be the case once we get to the last group games and the knock out stages (with the exception of Italy, obviously!)

England can easily do this by ensuring Heskey never gets another kick of the Jabulani (or any other football, for that matter.) Gerrard playing further up the field can only be good for England, and getting Joe Cole into the side will add to the side’s creativity.

Add to this a little shooting practise, there’s no reason at all to suggest England can’t do well in this tournament. However, whether they have the mentality to get past the likes of the Dutch or the Germans, only time will tell.

How do you feel about the World Cup? Have you been disappointed, or are you enjoying the tension of the tournament. Let me know below.