Going into a holiday weekend tomorrow, we know that people will need something to argue about until Monday. Well, we’ve got the mother of all argument dancers here today. I’ve snagged 26 screenshots from the 4 second video of Robben’s dive that led to a fateful
free penalty kick by which the Netherlands beat Mexico. And they are clear. Robben was fouled by the Mexican defender Marquez.
It was not a ticky tack foul, but a real one. Arguably, a smart one — but in any event a foul. If you seek examples of injustice in the world, they abound over the past week, but this isn’t one of them.
I was rooting wholeheartedly for Mexico here, even more so than I was rooting for Spain in the 2010 Championship game because the Dutch just seemed so damn dirty. So I don’t like coming to this conclusion. But, for me, intellectual honesty demands it.
Here’s the GIF from which we’ll be working — the one circulating from a different angle shows the flop, but not the foul:
Here we go — 30 pictures with captions.
1: Arjen Robben, of the evil footballers “the Oranje” of the otherwise perfectly nice country of the Netherlands, has the ball late in a tie game against Mexico.
2: Among the Oranje’s most adept scorers, the wily Robben is a clear threat from just to the right of the goal box to break open the game with a goal or assist.
3: His left foot fully cocked, Robben prepares to put the ball into play. He is challenged by Mexican defender Rafa Marquez.
4: Quickly moving his left foot to the right of the ball, it is already clear that Robben will be able to pass it past Marquez.
5: And there it goes — quickly. You can see this better in the video, but Marquez is still looking towards Robben’s feet.
6: As the ball starts to fly, Marquez moves his foot forward towards the path of the ball. His eyes remain on Robben’s feet.
7: For the first time we see (1) the great Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa and (2) Marquez’s gaze follows the ball.
8: Marquez’s eyes are still on the ball, but his foot is arching up at a higher angle. What happens next is critical.
9: Two very subtle but critical changes here: (1) Marquez’s eyes shift back from the (zooming) ball to Robben’s legs and (2) the angle of his foot changes to point towards Robben’s left foot.
10: One can get a sense of the speed with which Marquez’s right foot is shifting towards Robben’s left foot from the small distance traveled by both the ball and Robben’s face, right knee, and foot.
11: Note again how quickly Marquez’s foot is shifting from “going for the ball” position to “going for the foot” position compared to the speed of all other motion in these frames.
12: When we trip someone, we often think of tripping them at the ankle. That’s not what Marquez is aiming for. He’s going to hold Robben’s left foot down onto the ground.
13: This is the last that you’re going to see of the sole of Marquez’s shoe, as it clamps down on Robben’s toes like an alligator jaw, in this post.
14: CHOMP! Look back six shots or so to get a sense of the speed and force with which Marquez is stomping down here. Especially the force.
15: The force matters because, to trip Robben, Marquez has to hold his foot down and keep it down.
16: Watch Robben’s right leg move forward. This is like tripping over a tree root on the ground.
17: Robben is already supposed to be pushing off his left foot to keep his balance. But like a sturdy tree root, Marquez prevents it from moving forward.
18: Look how low to the ground Marquez’s force has taken him! By the Robben’s foot is released, he can only push off of his tiptoes. That’s not nearly enough force.
19: You can see how little force Robben had behind his last stride. He didn’t have to fake a flop. He was subtly tripped.
20: His left leg was to give him leverage to thrust his right leg forward. Without that, neither leg is going anywhere good.
COOLING OFF PERIOD: 10 more pictures below show the flop that so many people think is damning evidence of Robben’s overacting. Maybe it is, in part — but it didn’t have to be. Has anyone here ever tripped over something like an uneven rise in a concrete sidewalk? If you do it at full speed, this is pretty much what happens. Robben didn’t have to act at all to wave his arms and land on his chest and face. Let’s just all enjoy the big finale will minimal interruption before we get back to any broader commentary.
21: Any way to steady himself here? No.
22: How about now? No, no foot-to-ground contact yet.
23: Is the wing-flapping working? Not so far.
24: See how quickly Marquez has become a mere bystander?
25: Not breaking a fall with one’s arms may be milking it a bit.
26: Wait, here come the arms, swinging forward — too late?
27: I think that Marquez’s deadpan here is at least as impressive as any acing that Robben is doing.
28: All right — full body contact made. Thank you, Mr. Robben — you may stop now.
29: No, don’t start rolling up your legs … stop!
30: Oh fer pete’s … just … forget it. Sigh.
CONCLUSION: Most of what seems to have bothered people about the flop is action that Robben could have done little or nothing to avoid — because he was in midair without leverage. The bit at the end — well, the most important thing to note about it is that it’s inconsequential. The foul came earlier — and it was probably less hard for a referee to see and judge than we imagine.
You know how Luis Sanchez biting an Italian was a stupid foul? Well, this was a smart foul. It was well done. It wasn’t hooking a foot around someone’s leg, pushing, tripping, etc. Having been the air, Marquez’s foot had to come down somewhere, right? It’s a few subtleties — the direction of his eyes, his turning around his foot, his planting his foot on Robben’s toes long enough to keep him from maintaining his balance — that give away what he was doing. If the referee saw nothing more than his turning his foot so quickly before his landed on Robben’s foot, that would have been enough to suspect foul play.
But I suspect that most of the time, in that situation, he would get away with it — not because he should, but because the referee would not likely be in position to see what happened. So, he played the odds that it was worth taking an opponent’s star player out of a play near his goal at a critical moment. Not stupid at all. But for him to have been caught and given the appropriate punishment is not injustice.
Es penal. Lo siento, pero es verdad.