Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Tuesday, July 06, 2010 :::

A little soccer, starting with something that might amuse non-soccer people: in the game between Paraguay and Spain on Saturday, Paraguay got a penalty kick (referred to as a "P.K." in the US and a "pen" in, I think, the rest of the English-speaking world). The Spanish player who committed the foul was named "Piqué" — pronounced "P.K."

Today's semifinal between the Dutch and the Uruguayans was well-played and, perhaps more surprisingly, well-officiated. Since the Dutch won, they will play either Spain or Germany for the cup. There seems to be a consensus that the Dutch have been the best team in the world over the last half-century not to win a Cup, that the Spanish have been the best team in the world over the last few years (with the possible exception of Brazil), and the Germans have been the best over the past month.

Much has been made of the way Uruguay reached that game. In case you missed it, Ghana nearly scored in the last minute of extra time, the draw being preserved by one of the better Uruguayan field players blocking a goal with his hands. As a result, the defender was kicked out of the game (without replacement), suspended for the next game (i.e., today's), and Ghana got a penalty kick; before last Saturday, over the last five World Cups, 84% of penalty kicks taken not as a tiebreaker had gone in, but this one didn't (nor did the Paraguayan kick resulting from Piqué's foul, nor did a Spanish kick a minute later).

Uruguay has been the target of some contempt for deliberately taking a foul; while I wouldn't consider it a particular point of pride, I don't think it's especially dirty, either. Colby Cosh notes that deliberate fouls are common in other sports when a player decides that the penalty is worth taking, which doesn't necessarily mean spectators have to celebrate them. In particular, a baseball pitcher might throw at a batter's head in retribution for some earlier perceived slight, accepting that this will put a runner on base; perhaps the penalty for a deliberate hit-by-pitch should be steeper, but I think the culture surrounding the game should provide its own reinforcement for the message that this is not accepted (indeed, pitchers do give intentional walks to players who are so good at hitting home runs that the pitchers would rather give up a base than risk a bigger hit; they don't seem to intentionally throw the ball at a batter unless there is some perceived slight, even though injuring an opposing star slugger at the beginning of a series might be worth giving up a base).

In this case, a soccer player accepted a red card and a penalty kick to prevent a goal. I don't find that terribly admirable, but I don't find it terribly objectionable, either - certainly not as objectionable as doing something that is considered a foul because it causes injury, and clearly less objectionable than committing a foul based on the possibility of getting away with it. I don't think this is a situation in which the unofficial rules of the game need to be notably stricter than the official rules. And the official rules in this case are almost always enough to deter a deliberate hand-ball in the box. Even late in the game, when ejection isn't a strong penalty, suspension from the next match is likely to be enough to make up the difference between a goal and a penalty kick unless the existence of the next match depends on preventing the goal.

So, as Cosh pointed out, this isn't the most egregious example in sport of a penalty being inadequate compared to its foul. And it certainly isn't the biggest problem in soccer. It's just a quirk of the circumstances, and not much of one, at that.


::: posted by Steven at 5:23 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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