Sao Paulo: Mexico coach Miguel Herrara was incandescent with rage after El Tri lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16 as a result of a last-ditch penalty. A spot kick at the death snuffed out the life of Mexico in Brazil. Herrara has accused the referee of buying Dutch forward Arjen Robben’s play acting. His condemnation of the official must also be construed as a scathing attack on Robben.
Mexico skipper Rafael Marquez, who conceded the match-deciding penalty, was also seething with anger. “It wasn’t a penalty. I hadn’t stomped on Robben’s foot. He fooled the referee,” he said bitterly. A fourth successive World Cup as captain ended in tears for the former Barcelona defender.
Robben shot himself in the foot by admitting that he had tried to earn a penalty earlier in the match through diving. Even though the Bayern Munich star insisted that the spot kick that resulted in the winner was justified, the damage had already been done. Robben’s confession has only buttressed what has been an open secret in football for many years. The Dutch winger is so good at dribbling that he is one of the few current players who can be classified as unplayable when they are in the mood. Robben can also infuriate everyone including his ardent fans with his play acting and selfishness.
Jose Mourinho, who had managed Robben at Chelsea, has waded into the debate. According to the Portuguese, the Dutch player generously uses trickery to win free kicks and penalties. Mourinho should know because he has observed Robben at close quarters. As somebody who excels at mind games with other managers, the Chelsea boss is also good at reading his players’ minds.
The controversy has robbed some sheen of Robben’s superb campaign here. Although everyone who is worth his salt in football knows Robben goes down too easily, an admission from the horse’s mouth has made his position untenable.
Diving is a dark art that has besmirched football considerably and a player of the class of Robben admitting that he does indulge in it isn’t a great advertisement for the game. No referee can differentiate a dive from a genuine tumble in the limited time at his disposal. The onus is on the players to abhor diving for the sake of the game.
Robben has triggered a furious debate. Maybe it’s up to him to end it through his conduct within the box. Winning may be a sporting issue but diving is a matter of morality. Meanwhile, Robben will be hoping that the referee doesn’t wave ‘play on’ after a genuine foul on him when Holland take on Costa Rica in the quarters.