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Dive, poor officiating get 2014 World Cup off to a bad start

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Soccer’s too big to be hurt by one dive, but if there’s one thing the sport’s marquee event didn’t need on day one, it was simulation deciding a match. Perhaps worse: The decision of the game’s referee showed how far the sport is from getting a handle on the problem.

Yet that’s where we are after Day 1 of the 2014 World Cup — having to reconcile why a Brazilian attacker electing to flop on his back was able to sway the tournament’s opening match. Thanks to Fred’s antics, a 1-1 match eventually became a 3-1 win over Croatia, with great performances by Neymar and Oscar overshadowed by their teammate’s theatrics.

It’s part of my job to make sure Neymar and Oscar aren’t forgotten. Neymar scored twice in his World Cup debut, and Oscar, after it appeared as if he’d be marginalized on the flank, was one of the match’s two most influential players. As a team, Brazil may have failed to meet its own standards, but the flashes of brilliance for the team’s two most creative players bodes well for the team’s improvement.

Another part of my job is to try to depict the reality of the situation, and no matter how much we want to focus on the stars, it’d be disingenuous to overlook the influence the day’s two villains had on the result. If Fred’s malice hadn’t met Yuishi Nishimura’s mistake, we’d be talking about a Brazil draw.

[ MORE: Two Neymar goals, moment of controversy see Brazil start with 3-1 win over Croatia ]
[ MORE: Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia ]

The moment came in the 69th minute, when a movement down Brazil’s right gave Oscar a chance to find Fred near the spot. As the Selecao striker turned with Croatian defender Dejan Lovran on his back, Fred sensed his opportunity. Unfortunately for too many in this game, that meant trying to deceive the referee, and in this instance, that deception was rewarded. The ensuing penalty kick proved to be Brazil’s winning goal.

As terrible as that sounds, it’d be unfair to put too much blame on Fred’s shoulders. It’s easy to say he should be bound to a higher ethic, but unless a player’s safety is involved, the only ethic athletes ascribe to is a competitive one. Until there’s some disincentive to diving — something in the way the game is governed that makes it more viable for Fred to try to create a chance than take his luck with the official’s perspective — there’s only so much we can blame the player.

That leaves us with two culprits: Nishimura and the game itself, both of which deserve blame. Yet whereas one party’s mistake was a fault of commission, the other’s is a product of neglect.

source:
Referee Yuichi Nishimura gives a penalty kick against Croatia during the opening game of the World Cup. Croatia, even at 1-1 when the call was made, went on to lose to Brazil, 3-1. (AP Photo/Fabrizio Bensch, Pool)

Nishimura surely thought he saw a foul. The question is why. There’s no angle of that play that even comes close to depicting a Lovren foul. In real-time, at full speed, or in slow motion, what was happening was so transparent as to be predictable.

We knew Fred would dive. We’ve seen that play so many times, we know to look for it. Again, the question is why — why didn’t Nishimura look for it, too?

With 63 games left in the tournament, FIFA has a chance to correct the problem. Nishimura’s World Cup may be done. And for Croatia, while they may have been robbed of a point today, the team has two more games to make up for the slight. If they don’t make the knockout round, they’ll have themselves to blame, too.

The more important problems come in the bigger picture. As much as we talk about diving, there is no real movement to get it out of the game. In fact, as globalization’s exposed us to more styles, more often, there’s a tendency to see diving from a different perspective. Augmenting the puritanical and impractical view we hear from England, we’re now exposed to more pragmatic justifications of diving. For some, it’s just part of the game.

But do we want to leave it as part of the game? If so, let’s stop talking about controversial calls and teams being wronged. Instead, let’s just accept this world of competitive chaos and embrace a liberal view. Unless something’s clearly in conflict with one of the game’s laws, let’s applaud a player’s ingenuity. Let’s embrace the limits.

[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]

If, however, people don’t want more calls like today’s, Fred needs a disincentive. There needs to be a bigger crackdown on simulation. There need to be stiffer penalties and more reviews, perhaps in real-time. The game has to start taking the issue seriously.

That it didn’t before today’s match in Sao Paulo left a lot of fans to wonder how one player, one official, and a lack of urgency were allowed to turn game one. And unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we have this conversation.

Bob Bradley gaining momentum at Swans; has plans for MLS Cup

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 10: Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City looks on during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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It has been a good day for the Bradley family.

And it could get even better.

[ VIDEO: Swans batter Sunderland ]

Bob Bradley‘s Swansea City beat Sunderland 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to get things going, with the American coach sealing his second Premier League win in his eight matches in charge and lifting them from bottom place in the table.

Later on Saturday Bob’s son, Michael, will captain Toronto FC in the MLS Cup final against Seattle at BMO Field as he aims to lead TFC to its first-ever MLS title and cap off one of the most memorable days in the history of the Bradley family.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the win against Sunderland, Bob was delighted not only with Swansea’s win but also with their clean sheet, just the second since he’s been in charge and Swansea’s third of the season through 15 games.

“It’s good work. We’re proud of it. The response this week has been excellent,” Bradley said. “We’ve talked about how we need to be good at the Liberty. There’s continued work. The clean sheet was essential. We’ve conceded too many goals. The focus throughout was quite good.”

Bradley also told reporters that he plans to sit up late on Saturday (the games kicks off at 1 a.m. UK time on Sunday morning) to watch MLS Cup with a glass of wine as he cheers on his son with close friends and family.

As for his own exploits ts at Swansea, Bradley has silenced plenty of critics who have been becoming more vocal over the past week with the Swans losing 5-0 at Tottenham to make it 19 goals conceded in his opening seven games in charge. Yes, Bradley knows that he has plenty of work to do defensively with his side but he’s obviously getting something right as they looked very solid and dependable in a big relegation battle against David Moyes‘ Sunderland.

At the other end, as long as he has Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jefferon Montero, Modou Barrow and now Fernando Llorente (four goals in his last two home games for Swansea) his team will score goals and they look dangerous.

With reports of internal reviews ongoing at Swansea City due to the poor form of the club this season, plus some questioning if Bradley will lose his job in January, the American coach continues to prove doubters wrong. He has been backed by Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins in the press and Bradley also hit back at some criticizing him from day one just because he has an American accent.

The New Jersey native has always been a man who will speak his mind and he is slowly making his mark at the Liberty Stadium.

Without his own players to work with (the January transfer window will help him make some key additions in defense) he has now gained eight points from a possible 24 but there are signs of improvement for the Swans, especially at home. With five very winnable games against relegation rivals coming up between now and Jan. 3 (West Brom, Middlesbrough, West Ham, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace) Bradley knows this is a critical period for Swansea’s survival hopes.

Getting their biggest win of the season and a shutout kicks off a pivotal few weeks rather nicely.

It also starts the day off right for the Bradley family who will be hoping U.S. national team captain Michael will be getting his hands on his first piece of silverware with Toronto FC in a few hours time.

Somewhere in Swansea, Bob will be proudly raising a glass of fine wine to his son and his teammates if Toronto can pull off the win.

No kidding: Leicester throttling Man City 3-0 before HALF (Stream link)

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John Stones and Claudio Bravo‘s heads are turning like “The Exorcist”, as Jamie Vardy and Leicester City are battering Manchester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Vardy has a pair of goals, the second off a crazy assist from Riyad Mahrez (above), and Andy King has also scored as Leicester built a 3-0 lead at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Manchester City was in a horrible spot in two blinks, as Vardy and Islam Slimani took advantage of John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov before the latter beat Claudio Bravo to make it 1-0 in the third minute.

Less than two minutes later, it was time for another. Andy King let loose with a shot from outside the 18 that a flying Bravo could only touch into his goal. 2-0 at the King Power. Scenes.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

And Leicester saved its best for the third goal, as Riyad Mahrez made an otherworldly first touch assist on a diagonal ball over Stones’ head, and Vardy touched around Bravo to score it. Wow (See top of page for goal).

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VIDEO: Wilfried Zaha scores stunner in Crystal Palace’s wild draw

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Wilfried Zaha is currently at the center of an international tug of war between the English national team and the Ivory Coast.

When he scores goals like this you can understand why.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

Zaha, 24, dribbled free of Hull’s defenders and smashed home an unstoppable shot to put the Eagles 2-1 up in a crazy game which ended up finishing 3-3.

Hit play on the video about to see Wilf score a goal of the month contender.

Burnley 3-2 Bournemouth: Clarets win thriller

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  • Burnley have 16 of 17 points from home games
  • Bournemouth conceded 6 in last 2 games
  • Hendrick scores stunner 
  • Burnley’s 5th home win in PL

Burnley beat Bournemouth 3-2 at Turf Moor on Saturday in a vital victory for Sean Dyche‘s Clarets. Trailing 3-1 late on and dominating plenty of the play, there wasn’t going to be another fairytale 4-3 comeback win like last week against Liverpool for Eddie Howe‘s side.

Burnley went 2-0 up in the first half with a stunning Jeff Hendrick goal and Stephen Ward tapping home, but just before the break Benif Afobe made it 2-1. George Boyd made it 3-1 in the second half and then Charlie Daniels pulled one back in stoppage time to set up a nervy finish but Burnley held on for the three points.

With the win Burnley move on to 17 points, while Bournemouth stay on 18 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There was an end-to-end start to the game with Burnley under pressure as Bournemouth’s Benik Afobe forced Tom Heaton into a fine save and Dan Gosling then sent an effort just over.

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Three minutes later Burnley went 2-0 up as a corner caused mayhem in the box with Artur Boruc only parrying the effort and Ward was on hand to make to hammer home.

Somehow, Bournemouth were 2-0 down despite impressing.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Before half time Bournemouth went close as Adam Smith’s free kick was brilliantly saved by Heaton and eventually their pressure paid off. Afobe steered the ball past Heaton after some lovely build up play from the Cherries and they were back in the game. 2-1.

In the second half Bournemouth almost equalized with a very similar move to their first goal. The ball came down the left but Afobe couldn’t get enough on his finish as the chance came and went.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the other end Ashley Barnes flashed a shot just over with the Clarets quite comfortable to sit back and soak up pressure before trying to hit Bournemouth on the break. Andre Gray then wasted a huge chance for Burnley as the ball dropped to him in the center of the box but he put his volley straight at Boruc, however the Clarets soon extended their lead.

Boyd picked up the ball on the left side of the box and drilled in a low shot which found the far corner of the net to put Burnley 3-1 up.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Afobe then had the ball in the back of the net thanks to substitute Jack Wilshere setting him up wonderfully but the strike was chalked off for a handball by the former Arsenal striker. Bournemouth did pull one back in stoppage time as Daniels smashed home to make it 3-2 but it was too little too late as they couldn’t pull off another stunning comeback from 3-1 down.