From beau­ti­ful to dread­ful in just 20 days

World Soccer - - Front Page -

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.

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