Diving in Football

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The flailing of the arms. The contorting of the face into a grotesque mask of pain and suffering. The rolling around on the pitch in agony to the point where you’re wondering if there’s a priest on hand to administer last rites. The miraculous recovery as a player suddenly resumes running at full speed and moving around as if nothing had happened.

You’ve all seen players do this, and you’ve either been disgusted with their blatant cheating to the point where you question your love for a sport that rewards world-class athletes for behaving like total wimps, or impressed with their ingenuity and determination to do whatever it takes to help their teams win.

Unfortunately, diving is, and always will be, a part of the game. It is too easy for a player to fall to the pitch in hopes of drawing a game-changing free-kick or penalty, and the reward is too great. Indeed, some players have come under fire for not diving enough.

Dives can change the course of a match, especially if it leads to a penalty or a sending off. In compiling a list of the biggest dives of all time, I used the following criteria:

  • The dive must have changed or impacted the match in question, in other words, the dive must have led to a goal or a sending off.
  • The bigger the match, the bigger the dive.
  • Obviously, some people will think that some “dives” were not really dives. However, controversy is often part of the fun, especially in big-time situations. As such, as long as you could make a case for someone diving, then I included it.
  • Chronic divers, like Cristiano Ronaldo, were not considered unless one of their dives led to an important goal or a sending off in a big match. I tried to come up with one for Ronaldo for either club or country, and I couldn’t. If any of you can, feel free to let me know. Think of it this way, if Ronaldo dives 8 times but it does not lead to a goal for his team, does not get anyone sent off, or does not even get a call, then who is he hurting besides himself, and maybe the guy who has to fix the pitch after the match?
  • “The Beckham Rule” – namely if a player dove, but the other one did something stupid to cause said dive or in retaliation to said dive, then it doesn’t count. Case in point: Diego Simeone pretty much admitted that he dove during the Argentina/England match in the 98 World Cup, but Beckham didn’t have to kick out at him in the first place.

1. Rivaldo’s “Quick Thinking” – Brazil v. Turkey, 2002 World Cup, Group Stage, June 3, 2002.

Circumstances: In the closing minutes of Brazil’s opening match against Turkey, Rivaldo tried to waste time during a corner kick with his team heading towards a 2-1 win. Turkey’s Hakan Unsal took exception to Rivaldo’s tactics and angrily kicked the ball at the Brazilian midfielder, striking the former FIFA World Player of the Year in the legs.

The impact of the ball on his unprotected legs was too great for the former Ballon d’Or winner, and Rivaldo went down as if he had been the victim of a vicious leg-sweep from Steven Seagal. Even worse, the pain was so great that it immediately traveled up Rivaldo’s body and towards his face, and Rivaldo lay on the ground, clutching at his face while everyone wondered whether he would need reconstructive facial surgery.

Impact: Unsal was sent off for his transgression, but Rivaldo was fined 11,670 Swiss Francs for his actions. Rivaldo later said that he had been “thinking in advance, I thought that the ball was going to roll up my body and hit me in the head, therefore I tried to protect myself.” Hey, if a single bullet could have done all that damage to JFK, then the ball certainly could have rolled up Rivaldo’s body, despite coming in at a low and flat, right?

2. Grosso’s Game Winner – Italy v. Australia, 2006 World Cup, Round of 16, June 26, 2006

Circumstances: Italy were deadlocked with upstart Australia, 0-0, in injury time when Fabio Grosso made a move into the box and was met by Australian defender, Lucas Neill. Neill slid across Grosso and missed tackling him by mere inches. Grosso then tripped over Neill’s body and immediately started acting as if he had been the victim of a gross violation. After the penalty was awarded, his teammates even came over and congratulated Grosso on an acting job that would have made Robert Benigni proud.

Impact: Italy went on to convert as Francesco Totti exorcised the ghosts of 2002 (see below), and Italy won the match, 1-0. They went on to win the World Cup.

3. Klinsmann’s Swan Dive – West Germany v. Argentina, 1990 World Cup Final, July 8, 1990.

Circumstances: With the grace of a ballerina, and the hang-time of Jordan, Juergen Klinsmann could make the most harmless looking tackles look like the Hindenburg disaster. His reputation was so bad that, during his debut for Tottenham, he poked fun at himself by performing a dive during a goal celebration.

In the World Cup, his talent was on full display as he caused Pedro Monzon to get sent off after a truly heinous and atrocious tackle in which Monson failed to make contact with Klinsmann. But that didn’t stop the German striker from hurling his body through the air as if being thrown from a speeding automobile, performing several pain-induced rolls around the pitch, and a sporting a look of agony not seen in a German since the end of World War II. Monzon was sent off, becoming the very first player ever to be red-carded in a World Cup Final.

Impact: West Germany ended up winning the World Cup, 1-0, after a late penalty against Argentina.

4. Dida’s Dive – Celtic v. AC Milan, UEFA Champions League, October 3, 2007.

Circumstances: Celtic were hosting reigning European Champions, AC Milan, and were on their way to a huge 2-1 victory at Celtic Park. A fan entered the pitch and ran past AC Milan goalkeeper, Dida, tapping the Brazilian keeper on his shoulder. Dida, incensed that someone would have the audacity to lay a finger on him, ran after the fan.

However, the delayed effects of this vicious assault took its toll on the former Brazilian #1, and Dida collapsed in a heap after running a few steps in pursuit of his attacker. Dida clutched his face in pain, as it was clear that the tap on the shoulder was so powerful that the pain had traveled all the way to his face. He was even stretchered off the pitch and substituted.

Clearly, Dida’s attacker, later identified as Robert McHendry, was a master of the Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique from “Kill Bill.”

Impact: Dida was suspended for 2 matches (reduced to 1 on appeal) and he publicly apologized to AC Milan fans. His attacker was given a lifetime ban from Celtic Park.

5. Pires Preserves the Streak – Arsenal v. Portsmouth, English Premier League, September 13, 2003.

Circumstances: Arsenal were trailing against Portsmouth, 1-0, when Robert Pires went down harder than Glass Joe after the slightest of contract (if any) from Pompey defender Dejan Stefanovic. To the shock of most people, Pires was not booked for simulation and Thierry Henry converted the penalty kick to tie the match at 1, preserving the point for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger used the usual “I didn’t see it” spiel that he employs whenever his team does something wrong and there’s no way he can defend it.

Impact: Pires’ penalty helped preserve Arsenal’s unbeaten run, which was at a mere 4 matches at the time of the Pompey match. They would go on to finish the season unbeaten.

Link: Pires: “I’m no diver.”

6. Appiah Sends the Americans Home – U.S. v. Ghana, 2006 World Cup, June 22, 2006.

Circumstances: The United States had just drawn level with Ghana in their do-or-die group match after Clint Dempsey slotted home Demarcus Beasley’s takeaway near the Ghanaian box. A couple of minutes later, Ghana won a penalty when skipper Steven Appiah went down under the slightest of challenges from American defender Oguchi Onyewu. Appiah then stepped up and put the penalty kick past Kasey Keller, and the Ghanaians were on their way to the knockout round while the Americans were on their way home.

Impact: The U.S. had a slim chance of advancing had they managed to beat Ghana. Instead, they squandered the progress that they made in 2002 and went out in the first round without a win for the second time in three World Cups. They did take a point from the Italians, but that was of little consolation. Bruce Arena, whose tactics were heavily criticized during the tournament, was dismissed after the tournament.

7. Rooney Ends the Invincibles Era – Manchester United v. Arsenal, English Premier League, October 24, 2004

Circumstances: This video illustrates how difficult it can be to determine whether someone is guilty of a dive. Some people swear that this was a dive. Others swear that it wasn’t. Still, you can’t deny the impact that it had. With Arsenal looking to extend their unbeaten streak to 50 matches, they had to travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.

The two teams had engaged in a memorable match the previous year where Ruud Van Nistelrooy was accused of cheating to get Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira sent off. Van Nistelrooy missed the ensuing penalty, which would have won the match for United, and was promptly bum-rushed by a sea of Arsenal players, taunting him for his miss.

Flash forward to 2004 and Rooney won a penalty after Sol Campbell seemed to trip him in the box. Replays show that Campbell clearly made contact, but that Rooney definitely lurched forward, as if he were trying to draw a penalty. In any case, Van Nistelrooy stepped up and atoned for the previous year, putting United ahead, 1-0.

Impact: Rooney slotted home a no-question-about-it goal late in the match to put the result beyond doubt. Arsenal took the loss very poorly, with reports of players refusing to swap shirts with United players after the game. Arsenal’s veneer of invincibility was gone, and in fact, some people argue that Arsenal have yet to recover from this loss. And then there was the whole pizza thing, which is another story…

8. Gerrard Completes Liverpool’s Historic Comeback – AC Milan v. Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Final, May 25, 2005

Circumstances: Just so you don’t think I’m biased, I actually like Steven Gerrard. I think he’s a fantastic player and a great captain for his club. Most importantly, he always seems to pick up his team when they need him the most. Usually, he does it by scoring crucial goals, but, as he showed against AC Milan, he can do it in other ways, too.

With his team trailing AC Milan, 3-0, Liverpool pulled off an impressive comeback. Down 3-2, Gerrard broke into the Milan box and went down after a slight nudge from Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso. Xabi Alonso missed the ensuing penalty, but put in the rebound to draw level.

Impact: The game went to a shootout, and Liverpool won after Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty. Milan got revenge two years later, but this night belonged to Liverpool.

9. Totti’s “Dive” – South Korea v. Italy, 2002 World Cup, Round of 16, June 18, 2002

Circumstances: This was a rare case when both sides were accused of cheating. Italian striker, Francesco Totti took a tumble in the box during extra time and was given a second yellow card. South Korea scored a few minutes later to win one of the most controversial matches in World Cup history.

Not everyone is convinced that this was a dive. After all, there was quite a bit of contact between Totti and his defender, and even the commentators weren’t sure whether Totti should have been booked for simulation. Plus, there are some people who swear that this match was fixed, and they point to Christian Vieri’s second goal (he had already scored in the first half), which was wrongfully disallowed, as evidence. In fairness to the officials, there has never been any concrete proof of wrongdoing.

Impact: South Korea went all the way to the Semi-Finals that year. The hero of the game against Italy, Ahn Jung-Hwan, was promptly released by his Italian club, Perugia.

10. Instant Karma for Argentina – Netherlands v. Argentina, 1998 World Cup Quarterfinals, July 4, 1998

Circumstances: Argentina had defeated England in a controversial Round of 16 match (The Beckham Game) and met the Netherlands in the Quarterfinals. In the 87th minute, Ariel Ortega went down inside the Netherlands box and rolled around, trying to draw a penalty. The refs were not convinced, and Netherlands goalkeeper, Edwin Van der Sar, confronted Ortega about the latter’s playacting.

Van der Sar then showed some dramatic chops of his own, dropping like a ton of bricks as as the top of Ortega’s head bumped against Van der Sar’s chin. Ortega was sent off and, two minutes later, Dennis Bergkamp scored to clinch the victory for the Netherlands.

Impact: I was tempted to exclude this because of the “Beckham Rule,” but I ultimately decided not to. After all, there is considerable controversy over whether or not Ortega’s head actually made contact with Van der Sar. Ortega claimed he only made a threatening gesture with his head, and did not touch Van der Sar. In any event, the repercussions were huge for Argentina.

Honorable Mention: Lehmann’s Lament – Arsenal v. Bolton, English Premier League, February 11, 2006.

Circumstances: Jens Lehmann proved that nothing heals a painful injury better than not getting a call from a referee. In the closing seconds of Arsenal’s ill-tempered 1-1 draw with Bolton, Lehmann, as he is wont to do, decided to show off his dribbling skills and tried to take on Bolton’s Kevin Davies. Davies slid in for a clean tackle and Lehmann, whose aversion to any kind of physical contact is well known, took exception.

He went down and started clutching at his shin guard, because, apparently, Davies’ tackle was so vicious and heinous that it penetrated the hard plastic exterior of Lehmann’s shin guard and resulted in a horrific injury that, at the very least, should have resulted in a booking for Davies. The referee was not convinced, and Lehmann promptly jumped up and started yelling at the official, momentarily forgetting about his pain and suffering. Clearly the rush of adrenaline had a lot to do with it.

Impact: None, really. I just love this video.

Also See: The 10 Best Football Dives (Observer)

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