JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: Pour a forty on the curb for England and some rules explained

Well, I’d like to thank England for participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. They aren’t technically eliminated from the tournament just yet, but things aren’t looking good. Some shaky midfield and defensive play let them down in the end, but, if I were English I’d have to say that the future is actually looking pretty bright for them. Many of their good, young players are getting experience and a taste of international football at the highest level. And it took some superb play by one of the most feared offensive talents in the world today, Luis Suarez, who also happens to be my least favorite player in the world, to take them down yesterday.

Take a look at what Suarez wrought.

On the first goal, note the exquisite chipped pass from teammate Edinson Cavani, as well as the non-existent defense from England, who failed to either put pressure on the ball, allowing the time for the pass to be made, or closely mark the most dangerous player on the pitch, who was allowed to run into the area unimpeded and finish with that lovely header. On the second goal, I’m actually not quite sure what England were doing, but needless to say it should be harder to score in the World Cup than just lumping the ball forward and then flicking it to the best player on the pitch, again unmarked, with a glanced header.

Man of the Match: Luis Suarez

Bonus Top Five, Reasons I Dislike Luis Suarez:

5. He was suspended for racially abusing an opponent.

4. He was suspended for biting an opponent.

3. He’s a diving cheat. He’s too good of a player to dive and try and fool the referee into giving fouls that didn’t occur.

2. He cheated Ghana out of advancing in the 2010 World Cup. (Note to Ghana: Don’t miss the penalty kick next time and this isn’t a big deal.)

1. He’s ruined Anne Hathaway for me forever. *shiver*

Wow, that felt good to get off my chest.

Ok, we’re down to a mere two days until the Big One (ok, the next Big One) for the U.S. team, the match against Portugal on Sunday (6:00 PM EST). Just as I noticed an increased interest in the World Cup before the Ghana game, there’s been an exponential increase in interest thanks to the U.S. dramatic win over Ghana Monday, and due to the massively entertaining games throughout the tournament. More people than ever are texting, e-mailing, posting, and walking up to me at my traditional spot at Mellow Mushroom to 1). Tell me how much they are enjoying the World Cup 2.) Tell me how excited they are for the U.S. game and most often 3.) Ask me to explain some seemingly baffling rules of the game, many of which make the balk or infield fly rules in baseball seem tame.

Some people might get annoyed by that, but as you might have guessed there’s nothing I enjoy more than explaining rules and nuances of the game to folks, so I decided to add a short primer overview for some of the more common rules that seem to baffle newcomers and FIFA referees.

(Keep this in mind: I’m not a soccer expert nor do I claim to play one on TV. I’ve never played an organized minute of the game in my life. In fact I grew up pretty much hating the game – where I grew up in the South you played football and basketball and baseball and thought anybody who played soccer was a Communist. In our defense, we were a simple people. I’m simply a guy who started watching the international and English game years ago and slowly fell in love with it and now seeks to help others do the same. So that’s my background and perspective on this and all my writings about “sah-cuh,”)

Offside – This is probably the most common call you’ll see on TV, and while it seems complicated it is really quite simple most of the time: An attacking player who does not posses the ball cannot be beyond the last defender before the ball is passed or shot. This doesn’t mean that the attacker can’t be behind the defense when they RECEIVE the ball, only when the pass is made. The officials you see along the sides of the field waving the flags are the ones primarily responsible for making this call. It seems simple but there is one major flaw in this rule: The person responsible for making the call somehow has to simultaneously see the ball leave one player’s foot while watching whether or not the last attacking player runs beyond the defense too soon. Combine that with the fact that defenses will use this rule to their advantage and try and coordinate their positions across the line to “play” the opposition into an offside position and you’ll understand why offside calls lead to more good goals being disallowed than any other rule in the game.

Biggest exception to the rule: Players can be offside without penalty if in the referee’s determination they are not actively involved in the play.

Handball – This one seems the simplest of all, right? You play the game with your feet, head, and really every part of your body except for the hand/arm. Well, there’s a qualifier to this rule that often gets overlooked: the rules say that the violation needs to be intentional. Determining intent can often be difficult, especially when the players are in such close proximity and the ball is travelling about 1000 mph. In the simplest terms, referees look to see if a player’s arm is in an “unnatural position.” So, if a defender is 2 feet away and a ball strikes their arm while it is hanging down at their side, then that probably isn’t a handball, as there is no intent. If the player throws their arm up in the air (see above Suarez, Luis) and the ball hits the hand, then it is a violation. Now here’s the problem – probably all referees not on the take will call the second scenario a foul, but it’s more or less a crap shoot on whether the first scenario gets called.

Biggest exception to the rule: Other than interpretation, handball can be confusing because the penalties depend on where the violation takes place and the context of the violation. If the handball occurs in the course of play outside the penalty area, say by an offensive player attempting to control the ball out of the air, then the penalty is merely a free kick to the other side. If a defender is adjudged to have denied an attacker from getting possession of the ball (for example, a pass to another player in broken up by throwing up a hand), then the defender is shown a yellow card and a free kick is awarded. If that violation takes place within the penalty area, then a penalty kick is awarded in addition to the yellow. IF that violation denies a “goal scoring opportunity” (which doesn’t have to be a shot on goal, it could be for preventing a pass to a teammate who is through on goal), then the defender is shown a red card in addition to the penalty award. Got that?

Fouls, cards, and dismissals: Ok, strap in. A normal foul results in a foul and the award of a free kick. As noted before in a previous post on the end of the first Swiss game, the referee at their discretion can choose to allow the attacking team to “play advantage” if they have retained possession of the ball and have an attacking opportunity (preventing a defender from stopping a play simply by committing a cynical foul). If a player commits a more serious foul, commits numerous fouls in a game, or dissents too vigorously with the referee, they can be shown a yellow card, which is a caution and puts the player on notice. If that player then receives a second yellow card they are shown a red and then sent off, which happened to Greek captain Konstantinous Katsouranis yesterday. If the foul is deemed sufficiently reckless or dangerous (see The People’s Elbow), or if the foul denies a clear goal scoring opportunity, then the player is shown a straight red card and is dismissed from the game, and is suspended for at least the next game as well.

Biggest exception to the rule: For the World Cup group stages, if a player receives two yellow cards in different games, that player is suspended for the next group game. For example, Dutch striker Robin Van Persie received yellows in The Netherlands first two games and is now ineligible to play in their next game versus Chile. This is one of the stupidest rules ever.

Got all that? Hopefully it is helpful. Again, this is my layman in the pub’s interpretation of the rules and should not be considered at all authoritative or exhaustive, even though it pretty much is. Have any other questions or quirks about the game you want explained? Let me know and we’ll do another edition of JLo explains it all in a later post.

Oh yeah, there some games today, aren’t there? I’ll take Italy over Costa Rica 2-0 and France over Switzerland 1-0.

Cheers and happy viewing.

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Posted on June 20, 2014, in The Sporting Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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