After four years of anticipation, the FIFA World Cup finally arrived. The 2014 edition of soccer's biggest tournament kicked off from Sao Paulo with host nation Brazil facing Croatia. People around the world stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to the beautiful game. Unfortunately, they saw a match that was tarnished by soccer's ugliest play, the dive.
Viewers first saw an opening ceremony that featured dancing plants and a two-person accordion. Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull eventually joined the pageantry by singing the official song of the World Cup. Sure, it was strange at times, but it was short enough. Plus, it was soccer that people were really turning in for.
The first half of the game featured two goals, each one scored by a Brazilian. In the 11th minute, Marcelo scored an own goal when he awkwardly mishit a Croatian cross. Brazil found an equalizer 18 minutes later when Neymar scored a left footed beauty from just outside the penalty box.
The second half was mundane until referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the penalty spot in the 69th minute. The Japanese referee believed that Fred had been fouled by Dejan Lovren, but replays showed that the Brazilian exaggerated the minimal amount of contact that was made. Neymar gave his team a one goal lead by stepping up to the spot and putting the ball into the back of the net.
The game would eventually end 3-1 as Oscar took advantage of a weak Croatian defense before poking the ball past goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa. The Brazilians won the opening game of the tournament on their home soil, but they had done so in controversial fashion.
With so much attention on the opening game, it's a shame that a dive influenced the final result. Soccer is often criticized for the large amount of overacting done by players. Advocates of soccer argue that the game is getting cleaner since referees have become more stringent and fines/suspensions are issued more regularly. It's hard convince the naysayers that this is true, however, if diving is being featured so prominently at the World Cup.
Instead of talking about the skills of the players, the post-game chatter was about the dive. CSNNE dedicated two segments to the World Cup. The first one featured AJ Soares articulately talking about the tournament, something that certainly helped promote the New England Revolution and soccer in general. The second segment featured pundits arguing about how diving ruins soccer. This won't draw in the casual or apathetic fan.
My hatred of diving is coming from someone who wants to watch pure, good soccer because it's entertaining and will draw in more fans. As a former player, however, I understand why someone would dive. Fred felt the contact, so he went down. If the choice is to be honest or win the World Cup, I dare you to find a player that would choose the former. Diving is ugly, but it's gamesmanship.
Croatia's head coach Niko Kovac said it best after game. The coach explained, "Everybody is trying to do that. Like it or not, it's part of football. I don't blame him."
I understand why diving happens, but I wish it didn't happen in the opening game. All eyes fixated to the game saw soccer's ugliest play. That's not how to prove doubters wrong. It's not how to draw in new fans.