Cheating. It's an ugly side of the beautiful game and it involves just about every aspect of it: diving in the penalty area, pretending to be mortally injured by a harmless tackle or stealing a few meters (yards) at a throw-in.
Count on seeing it all at the World Cup in Brazil; the founders of association football would shudder at how entrenched deception and trickery have become in the modern game.
There's cheating in other sports, too. Doping has been a bigger problem in other sports, but when it comes to seeking an unfair advantage by deceiving the referee, football players are in a class of their own.
Here are some of the most common ways they do it:
- DIVING. You would think that the penalty area is more slippery than the rest of the pitch because that's where players tend to fall the most. Despite the risk of picking up a yellow card for diving, many attacking players turn into Bambi on ice when they enter the area, routinely falling at the slightest contact with a defender and sometimes with no contact at all. By the same token, defenders who knowingly foul an attacking player often proclaim their innocence to the referee with one of the following gestures: Waving index finger (nothing happened), extending arms with palms up (I didn't do anything) or cupping hands downward in a forward motion (he took a dive).
- FAKING AN INJURY. This is perhaps the dirtiest trick of all, because it involves appealing for sympathy and concerns over your health when in reality there's nothing wrong with you. Outside of soccer, most people stop doing this at some point during adolescence. The purpose of this con is to delay the game or make the referee punish a player in the opposing team with a yellow or red card. The acting skills that players have developed to achieve this are impressive. A standard move is clutching the ankle, knee, head or other supposedly injured body part while contorting the face into an impression of Edvard Munch's famous painting ''The Scream.'' Some players accentuate the projection of pain by rolling around, which can seem a bit eccentric since movement normally worsens the pain for someone who is truly injured.
- THROW-IN CHEATING. When the ball crosses the sideline, it's customary for the player taking the throw-in to advance 3 meters (yards) or more before putting the ball back in play. Typically this is done in two moves. First he scoops up the ball and moves to a position slightly higher up than where it crossed the line. Then he takes a few more steps along the line as he looks for a player to throw the ball to. It's become such a natural feature of the game that the opposing team rarely protests anymore.
- THE FALSE ''OUR BALL'' CLAIM. It's a familiar sight when the ball crosses the side line or goal line: players from both teams instantly raise their hands to claim a throw-in, goal kick or corner kick. Unless it's blatantly obvious who touched the ball last - and sometimes even then - players do this almost instinctively and feign total incomprehension when the call goes to the other team.
- DELAYING THE GAME. If your team is ahead with just minutes left, there's no reason to hurry to put a dead ball back in play. But the ways in which players try to stall the game are anything but sportsmanlike. Goalkeepers suddenly feel the need to manicure the grass to make sure that the ball is situated just right before a goal kick. Players being substituted walk or slow-jog off the pitch, stopping to high-five or hug their team-mates, or tie their shoe-laces, on the way out. Another common delaying tactic happens when a call goes against a player and he picks up the ball to prevent the other team from putting it back in play quickly. Then he pretends to be helpful by throwing or kicking it back to an opponent but making sure he misses him by a few meters (yards), giving his own team more time to regroup.
- DOUBLE STANDARDS. Don't be surprised to find players who commit all of the above exploding with anger when the same transgressions are committed by the other team. Forgetting that just moments ago they were the ones faking an injury, they will mob the referee clamoring for a yellow card when an opposing player attempts the same trick.