The Imperfect Game: a Take on Brazil-Croatia, the 2014 World Cup, and the Philosophy of Soccer

As promised, I have a piece here on Brazil’s penalty:

First of all, I want to tell you that in no way whatsoever was that a penalty kick. Not at all. I am not trying to say that it was a penalty kick, because I can tell you assuredly that it wasn’t. I have seen things that were much more penalty-y rightly not be called. I have seen many, many bad calls, but few of them in which everyone can tell, from the moment of the foul, that it absolutely wasn’t a PK. You didn’t need a FIFA license. In the ref’s defense, he had the second worst possible angle (head-on; the worst angle would be behind the Croat where you couldn’t see Fred). But from any angle, that’s clearly not a penalty.

Second of all, did Fred really dive? Again, it totally wasn’t a PK, but does it have to be one or the other? It almost looks to me like he just lost his balance and fell over. See, these guys aren’t really thinking about proper balance, but they’re thinking about scoring a goal. It looked like he slipped. Again, it wasn’t a penalty. But I’m not convinced it was a dive.

Even if it was a dive, how many people would’ve done different? I will tell you, that if I was a striker, playing in the World Cup, and I didn’t see much else to do, and I could’ve maybe sold it, I would’ve gone down. Maybe that makes me a terrible person, but 95% of soccer players would go down given the circumstances. They’re playing game theory. They stay up? Best case scenario, nothing. The play is over, they can’t create a chance. Worst case scenario: again, nothing. They go down? Worst case scenario: yellow card. Big deal, just don’t get another and you’re okay. Best case scenario? You win a very good chance at goal for your country. The choice is simple.

Is that right? Probably not. Is that the reality? Yes. What if they increase the punishment? Well, that might help, but then what if they get it wrong? What if diving becomes a red, a player gets legitimately fouled, and then wrongly sent off? It opens up many new channels for controversy, and dare I say match fixing. What if they retro-ref? As in, suspend a player after reviewing the game? Well, how does that help the team that the player dove against? In this case, if Fred was suspended, Croatia would actually be hurt if Brazil are without their starting striker against Mexico, who are rivaling Croatia for a spot in the Round of 16.

There is no perfect answer. Not even one close. It’s soccer, and like life, it isn’t anywhere near perfect.

And that is what we have learned so far in this World Cup.

 

This World Cup, and last year’s Confederations Cup, have both been marred by protests. Advertised has been a festival of joy and samba, while in reality the joy and samba is overshadowed by the fact that this country has too many problems and too little money to have to worry about a World Cup.

South Africa, Brazil, Russia, and Qatar (past, present, future, scandal) have all had intense controversy, for either being too poor to afford to host a World Cup (note: it’s a myth that World Cups improve economies, they don’t) or human rights violations (i.e. invading other countries or enslaving people).

FIFA is really bad at what they do. Of all non-governmental entities, FIFA is probably the worst at doing what they do. I mean, they’re terrible. Don’t believe me? Re-read the paragraph before this one.

Anyways, so, the Brazil World Cup. We were promised joy and samba, we got poverty and riots. Brazil-Croatia: we were promised the home nation’s Jogo bonito, the beautiful game, we got the game being arguably decided on a very soft call.

See the connection?

Brazil were supposed to win, yes, but not at all like that. The nation of joy and samba and yellow shirts won by deceit, whether planned or not, and ultimately a broken system that cannot be fixed.

Life isn’t perfect. Most of you probably know that. I could make a separate blog listing reasons how life isn’t perfect, but it would make everyone utterly depressed. Even in first world America, most of us are sad, restless, upset, or a combination thereof, either the majority of the time or at least a sizable portion of it.

Soccer is life with a ball. Life isn’t perfect, and soccer isn’t perfect. There are many flaws to the game, the people who play the game, and the systems in which the people who play the game play. These flaws are epitomized by FIFA, who are very corrupt (I’m kicking them while they’re down).

Soccer isn’t perfect, but yet we keep watching. Life isn’t perfect, but yet we keep living. We come back for more of the good moments; and there are good moments. Wonderful goals, skillful passing and dribbling, amazing saves, even defending and the tactics of the teams can be enjoyable to observe.

You know how they say to look on the bright side of things? Look on the bright side of soccer. You always see the analysts talk about the bad things. A goal is scored? My, what terrible defending. An incorrectly called foul? Let’s spend 30 minutes talking about it!

Throughout this World Cup, there will be moments that drive you insane. Moments of cheating. Moments of bad decision-making. Some players will get hurt. Protests will continue. But there will also be moments that make you happy, amused, interested, or at least can take your mind off things that make you angry. Think about the positives. Yeah, that foul should never have been called, but Oscar scored a nice goal. And yeah, the defending was poor, but look at the attacking.

Life isn’t perfect. Soccer isn’t perfect. But it doesn’t need to be perfect to be enjoyable.

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