Tuesday 18 June 2002

Hands off the ball, O’Brien!

From a soccernet.com report on the US-Mexico game:

Mexico were trailing 1-0 on Monday to an eight minute goal by Brian McBride when midfielder John O’Brien clearly handled the ball in the area from a corner, but Portuguese referee Vitor Melo Pereira missed the incident and the Mexican appeals were in vain.

US coach Bruce Arena might consider suggesting to O’Brien that he quickly peruse the Laws of the Game, particularly Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct.

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offences:

  • tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball
  • holds an opponent
  • spits at an opponent
  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).

Then perhaps handling the ball is no longer such a big deal, since shirt-pulling has been largely unpenalized—with the exception of a German or Swedish referee in a game I can’t recall (it’s all becoming a blur); but he carded a player who’d nearly taken his opponent’s shirt off!



I would be quite surprised if John O'Brien is the first or the last player to break the rules when in a spot of desperation. :)

It's like a cornerback committing pass interference when he's about to get burned by the wide receiver and he knows it will go for a touchdown in American football. It's better to commit the foul and hope for the best than to give up a sure score.

That said, the US has gotten their share of crappy calls this tourney (it happens when you don't have the street cred of the big boys), so I'm not too upset to see it go the other way one time.

Posted by: John on 18 June 2002 at 08:31 PM

When I saw O'Brien's handball replayed tonight, I couldn't help thinking he's in the wrong sport. A punch like that would have knocked Lennox Lewis into the 22nd century.

Let's call a spade a spade, John. O'Brien's a (hand-balling) cheat. Rivaldo's a (play-acting) cheat. They're both cheats. They (and a great many others) deserve to be drummed out of the game. But they won't be, because the majority will rush to justify their behavior.

Yet didn't tens of thousands of Enron employees and shareholders lose their life savings because of a similar "win at all costs" mentality?

What an irony! To find myself defending the British notion of fair play.

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 18 June 2002 at 08:56 PM

No doubt, O'Brien broke the rules and they deserved the free kick. What I'm saying is that in the heat of competition, people break the rules to try to win and it's the official's job to check it and assess punishment for it. Wanting to win is human nature. Most people don't go out there intending to break the rules, but in certain (and frequent) situations it happens because we're competitive animals.

The comparison to Rivaldo and Enron is pushing it, though. Enron was an example of systematic cheating, more akin (in sports) to point shaving or perhaps steroids abuse, which goes on game after game with approval (or at least silence) from the boss/manager. Rivaldo lay on the ground after a tackle and pretended to be hurt, got carted off the field, etc. It wasn't a split-second thing that was done, it seems, by reflex to keep the ball from netting.

Now, if it was proven that he had planned to do that, then that would be a completely different story. But, IMHO, it was just an example of the sort of competitiveness that put humans on top of the food chain. And having done much the same playing American football in high school, I know the feeling. Giving up a penalty feels nowhere near as bad as giving up a score.

Posted by: John on 18 June 2002 at 10:25 PM

A well-framed, persuasive argument, John. The point-shaving/steroid-abuse analogy is a much better match for the Enron case. (I think I'm getting far too emotionally involved in this World Cup saga. Although perhaps that's what's actually meant to happen...)

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 19 June 2002 at 12:42 AM

I know, for one, I'm far too emotionally involved :) I actually screamed out loud when Korea netted that header to beat Italy. And I could honestly care less about Italy and Korea (sports-wise, at least) under normal circumstances.

I've got to figure out a way to make it to Germany 2006.

Posted by: John on 19 June 2002 at 01:08 AM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour