Do a search for ‘World Cup’ and ‘simulation’ on the internet and you’ll find all sorts of predictions, most of them wrong.
The unpredictability of this tournament has been like a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately the other sort of simulation has been like a whiff of noxious gas.
Arjen Robben is one prominent case, and though it’s unfair to single him out, the whiff seems even more persistent in his case because he is an immensely gifted player who shouldn’t need to cheat, and he’s been doing it for the past decade.
He was close to his best against Mexico, he kept his team in the game along with Wesley Sneijder, while some others appeared to be wilting. The 93rd-minute penalty was legitimate, for all that he was heading away from goal. He drew the foul with a piece of magic, even if he overdramatised it like a bellyflop from the side of a pool.
Pedro Proenca is an experienced official and called that right — having missed one at the end of the first half. So you could say that justice, of a sort, was done. Yet in between those two incidents Robben attempted to trick the referee not once but twice, so it can equally be argued he should not have been on the pitch to win the game.
Apologising after the event seems gracious but hardly makes up for it — and Robben has done that before as well. It simply reinforces the argument that officials need access to instant replays to judge key incidents, an argument that now appears to be over since the Great Panjandrum himself has come round to the idea.
Sepp Blatter’s conversion to the use of goal-line technology goes back to Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany four years ago, yet Fifa has always resisted the idea of video technology, let alone the right to challenge decisions, which now also seems to be on the agenda. Ten years ago the Fifa president refused even to discuss a suggestion by Franco Carraro, the head of the Italian football federation, and Uefa president Lennart Johansson that technology could be used in “particular and controversial cases”.
Two years later Frederic Thiriez, the president of the French league, announced that they would try out the use of video technology in their league cup. France was promptly told it would be expelled from Fifa if the trial went ahead.
In fact the French were proposing video should be used in quite limited circumstances compared to what now seems to be taking shape. They wanted to give officials access to replays to help make borderline goal and penalty decisions: ie where there was uncertainty whether the ball had crossed the line or been handled or if a foul had occurred inside or outside the area.
The latest incidents — including the Luis Suarez affair and its aftermath — seem to have persuaded the authorities to go much further. Video would be available to decide not just which side of the line a foul occurred but whether it was a foul at all. So simulation would inevitably come under scrutiny. Managers it is suggested would have the right to two challenges, and the game would be halted for a review.
Proposals will probably be put to the next meeting of the International Board scheduled for the end of February in Belfast. As ever there is political manoeuvring involved. Uefa wants to continue with goal-line officials assisting the referee, although goal-line technology is likely to be used for the 2016 European Championships. The French and Italians are strongly in favour of using technology; German clubs recently rejected the idea, but new proposals will be put forward in December.
Grey areas abound. One issue is the most frequent source of contention and dispute: offside. Officials at this World Cup have continued to rule out legitimate goals — Giovanni Dos Santos against Cameroon, Edin Dzeko against Nigeria — despite in-line being onside and the benefit of doubt going to the attacking side. Implementing the existing rules properly would definitely help the game.
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