The Netherlands winger did not cheat the game. He did not attempt to fool the official; he only assured the foul committed by the Mexican defender.
It was a terrible way to end a soccer game.
Not just any soccer game, either, but a World Cup game.
How could Rafael Marquez have been so reckless?
He is 35 years old. He has been playing for the Mexico national team since 1997. He has 124 caps, has captained the team in four World Cups. He started in central defense and won the UEFA Champions League with FC Barcelona. He should know how to play the game by now. So why would he stick out his leg on an obviously belated challenge when Netherlands star Arjen Robben was about to lose control of the ball?
So much of the controversy that has developed around the 2-1 victory by the Netherlands, secured on a stoppage-time penalty kick, is aimed at Robben. He is being presented as a fraud – or, worse, a cheat – for throwing his arms forward and sprawling to the ground after Marquez’ misplaced right leg connected with Robben’s shin.
This is ridiculous. If Robben is a cheat, then athletes in every major sport are cheating in every game, every day. Seriously.
A basketball player driving to the basket who feels contact on his arm from a defender and knows he will not be able to complete a layup – what does he do? He flails his arms so it is clear he has been fouled.
A football wide receiver who is tripped by a cornerback as the quarterback’s pass is on his way – what does he do? He falls to the ground and gestures to the referee to throw a flag for pass interference.
The idea that Robben should be penalized for “embellishing”? You know where they do that? Hockey. It’s the dumbest rule in a great sport. It may be the dumbest rule in any sport. If a guy gets tripped and falls, it’s because he got tripped.
What Robben did against Mexico in Sunday’s World Cup round of 16 game bore no resemblance to the ridiculous diving that plagues the sport of soccer, such as when Germany forward Thomas Muller faked an injured jaw and so angered Portugal defender Pepe that Pepe head-butted him in disgust and got himself red-carded out of the match. What Muller did there, for lack of a better word, is cheating.
And unfortunately that was not the only incidence of players feigning injury during this World Cup in an attempt to trick the match referee into assigning some level of discipline to the opponent who’d committed a foul, or perhaps appeared to.
Robben made the smart play as Marquez made the wrong one. If Marquez had been paying attention, he’d have seen he had good cover from teammates toward the center of the box, and he’d also have noticed that Robben’s most recent touch had pushed the ball too far forward, probably beyond his reach. The threat was breaking down.
Marquez did not see this. Let’s be honest here. He is an extraordinarily accomplished player with a history of rash behavior on the field, including his red card for a head-butt of the United States’ Cobi Jones late in their round of 16 match at the 2002 World Cup and another for throwing a ball at an opponent in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs. What occurred with Robben was not a vicious play, but it was foolish.
If Marquez kept his leg back, Mexico almost certainly would have had the opportunity to move into extra time and have an equal shot at earning advancement into the World Cup quarterfinals. But he did not. Blaming the victim here is absurd. Robben did not cheat the game. He did not attempt to fool the official; he only assured that the foul committed in this circumstance was not missed.
If the consequence for Marquez’ action seems extreme, remember how difficult it is to score a goal in soccer. Should a defender be permitted to trip a ballhandler in the box, the only shots that ever will have a chance are long-distance blasts like the one Gio dos Santos scored for Mexico.
Marquez knew what the repercussions might be when he stuck out his leg. If he did not get the ball, he might get Robben. He wasn’t even close to the ball. So what was he doing? He was bringing a terrible end to a magnificent World Cup game, and probably to his own great World Cup career. That’s a shame, but it’s on him.