Yesterday I wrote about the Brazilian Way and today I turn my attention to the Italians. The Italian Way, simply put, is to hit the deck hard and often.
Probably one of the most troublesome aspects of soccer that casual observers and newcomers notice and comment on is the propensity for players to fake fouls. In soccer parlance, this is called “diving,” and although it isn’t limited to soccer only, in no other sport is it done with such theatrical flair. Typically, a player hits the deck with the slightest touch (or no touch at all), rolls around on the pitch writhing in agony, and is attended to by a bevy of trainers armed with a mini-ER and a stretcher. The player is carted to the sideline, spritzed with the “magic spray,” which works its usual wonders, and suddenly the player pops up and reenters the match. Usually several of these miracle healings take place per match. Oral Roberts would be jealous.
And among world footballers, nobody takes a dive like the glamorous Italians–when they go down, they go down with style and panache. To wit, yesterday’s cruel end to Australia’s football dreams when Italian Fabio Grosso went down in the box under Socceroo defender Lucas Neill’s sliding challenge in the closing seconds of their second round match. The referee, who was trailing the play, pointed toward the mark, and Italian star Francesco Totti knocked home the winning PK sending the Azzuri into the quarterfinal and the Socceroos packing to the Land Down Under.
It was an artful dive which Grosso sold well. Although there was relatively little, if any, contact made, I can see how the center ref was fooled on this one. It appeared from his angle that Neill did induce the fall, seeing as how he ended up beneath Grosso, looking awkward and plenty guilty. In my view, a sliding tackle in the box in the closing seconds of a match is a foolish decision with high risk. Neill could have kept his feet and closed down and perhaps contained Grosso while help arrived, but instead he went for broke and got burned. Grosso sensed the opportunity and did what any international footballer would do in that situation–hit the deck.
Although I don’t really see a grave injustice here (the Italians played well a man down and deserved to win as much or more than the Aussies), I would agree with those who say that this takes place too much. One such critic is Eric Cantona, a former French and Manchester United star featured in Nike’s latest ad campaign, Joga Bonito, which in Portuguese means to “play beautiful.”
Cantona is clearly “old school” and has had his fill of such shenanigans. If you follow this link to “Joga TV” and then click “The Beginning” you’ll get his entertaining take on the whole issue. Still, I’m betting that Cantona took a few dives “back in the day” too.
Message to the Italians: You have a talented team, a wonderful country and a legacy for all things beautiful. Stop your whining, take off the Versace shades, and play beautiful.