From beautiful to dreadful in just 20 days
Argentina, were not in violation of the rules; they simply reflected what has become acceptable in the sport.
And so we arrive at the real villains in this unhappy story: FIFA and, more specifically, the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
IFAB poses pompously as “the guardian of the Laws of the Game” yet has disastrous misunderstanding of what it should be doing. Treating the rules as almost sacrosanct, IFAB has become a narrow-minded group that totally fails to safeguard the game. And make no mistake, it is the game – not the rules – that is in need of protection.
Reluctant to change laws that seem to have been chiselled into stone more than 100 years ago, IFAB is inevitably out of touch with how things are panning out on the playing field. It never gives thought to modern developments. And the most insidious of those developments is the relentless drift of the sport into a primarily defensive, low-scoring game.
A sport in which just one goal is more than likely to decide matters is a sport that puts far too much pressure on its referees and a sport that nourishes defensive tactics. Which are, of course, negative and destructive.
Does IFAB care about that? No, it does not. It has never been heard to come up with suggestions for rule changes that would encourage an open, flowing, goalscoring style. IFAB’s silence has allowed anti-football tactics and negative attitudes to take root in the game.
Chile brought high-pressure harassment – which had wiped out Mexico in the last eight – to the Final. But Argentina were not to be bullied. As they responded, a physical, meanspirited game that was borderline legal took over.
And so to the shoot-out, which annointed Messi as the arch-villain for making a hash of his kick. It also ensured that Chile’s goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, got the man of the match award – for the one save he made during the shoot-out. Two anti-football triumphs. A total travesty.
While such negativity is allowed to flourish, it pretty much guarantees that there’ll be plenty more big-tournament Finals that look more like the Ugly Game, than its Beautiful counterpart.
Yes, there is something seriously wrong at the heart of football.