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World Cup, day eighteen

Ref Pedro Proenca decides the match
Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Sunday brought us another couple of World Cup surprises. The first one was that Mexico outplayed Holland and yet lost. The second one was that Costa Rica was the better team on the pitch for 90+ minutes in their match against Greece, were ahead by a goal, and yet needed a penalty shootout to win.

But in a day with two entertaining matches, and another dose of Louis van Gaal magic, it was the officiating which again troubled football lovers worldwide.

In the first game of the day, Arjen Robben took no fewer than seven dives, two before the first real foul occurred. The ref, Pedro Proenca, never gave the Dutch striker a yellow for attempting to fool him. He earned at least two and could have been sent out of the match before the second half ended. Then, the ref missed a clear penalty committed by not one but two Mexican defenders on the same play, and yes it was against Robben.

Finally, when Proenca called the game deciding penalty at the very end of the match, he did not seem to note that Robben was not impeded by Mexican defender Rafa Marquez’s foot. Yes the foot was there, yes it did touch the top of Robben’s boot, but yes Robben faked there was impeding contact, and took yet another dive, this time winning the game for it. Take a look at the penalty in slow motion.

The Mexican daily El Universal had on its front page a simple banner headline “It was not a penalty.” Marquez, the Mexican defender, was quoted as saying that Robben had confessed to him that “there had been no foul.” The Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad had several laudatory headlines about the game, each with an article attached, but the most interesting was “Ten reasons why Robben is the best player at the World Cup.”

In the second game, a particularly egregious sequence took place. On a single Costa Rican counterattack three fouls were committed, each a strategic foul, each slowing down the attack and allowing the Greek defenders to get back into position, each leaving the fouled player writhing on the pitch, and in each case the ref, Ben Williams, played advantage because the crumbling Tico managed to play the ball forward to a teammate. That teammate, of course who would just get control before he too was clobbered.

When Williams finally called the third foul it was because the play was stopped dead, together with the man in control of the ball. The question that might have troubled the official was how simply moving the ball forward could have been any advantage to the Costa Ricans when the person receiving the ball was summarily clobbered and the person needed to receive a return pass was missing, as he was not able to get off the pitch, several yards back, given the previous foul.

While these fouls were taking place in succession, the Greek coach made a show of complaining that there had been no reason for the Costa Ricans to be writhing on the pitch. The fourth official was needed to quiet the coach down.

Finally, when the Costa Rican bench had seen enough they erupted in complaint and were given an immediate yellow card at the 55th minute for comments on the officiating. Yet, it was not until Greek coach, Fernando Santos, had already been warned three times that he was sent off, just before the shootout, or about 70 minutes after the first warning, approximately and about 50 minutes after the second.

Tomorrow, we begin anew, with France playing Nigeria in Brasilia and Germany playing Algeria in Porto Alegre. We could not ask for more entertaining match ups of styles, cultures, and football pedigrees.