Rafael Marquez of Mexico reacts after a challenge on Arjen Robben of the Netherlands resulting in a yellow card for Marquez and a penalty kick for the Netherlands during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Netherlands and Mexico at Castelao on June 29, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.
It is two years before Rio de Janeiro hosts the summer Olympics, but there is already plenty of diving to be witnessed in Brazil. Football as a spectacle is all the poorer for it, yet some continue to profit handsomely.
There was much talk before these finals about what Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar would bring to this fascinating tournament. Not so much Arjen Robben. Or Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, the other two figureheads of the explosive Dutch attacking triumvirate.
In many respects, the Netherlands appeared to wash up in Brazil under the radar. Yet in Bayern Munich winger Robben, they possess a figure who is crafty in all sorts of ways, and one who tends to take kindly to tournament football. He is warming to the task at the right juncture with a quarter-final against Costa Rica or Greece suddenly looming large in Salvador on Saturday.
The Netherlands' 2-1 win over Mexico in the last 16 in boiling Fortaleza never seemed likely for large swathes of the match. It could never have been achieved without Robben's willingness to go to ground with more conviction in his movements than Sir John Gieguld in his acting prime. To dive, or not to dive: that is the question?
Sad, but true. The Dutch need Robben, warts and all.
Not only does he possess the speed with his ability to cover ground at a rapid rate of knots - this is a figure who was clocked doing 31km/h in burning up Spain's Sergio Ramos in the group stage - uniquely he can do so with the ball at his feet. There is not another player on the globe who can run that fast with the ball at his feet, almost like it is welded to his boots.
When you combine such crucial assets, it is probably little wonder that he becomes embroiled in so many claims for penalties. Whenever the Dutch play - or Bayern, when one thinks about it - it is a theme that seems to bubble just under the surface.
He completed seven successful dribbles, and was fouled five times against Mexico. He is a world class threat in every respect.
Crucially, he is also a world class diver.
Whether you like it or not, and personally this onlooker loathes it, Robben's ability to dive and ask questions of the referee is part of his considerable armoury.
He is not alone in his attempts to influence match officials. The same could be said of Neymar and Ronaldo. Adding to his reputation, Messi does not fraternise with such dark arts of the sport; or rather, if he does, he is simply so convincing that everyone assumes the foul really occurred.
Robben is not far off the skill levels of those protruding three, but ahead of them all in knowing how and when to win fouls by taking a quick fall to the floor. It is part of football in the modern era, and it is difficult to accept that match officials will not eventually cave in if Robben keeps at them.
The cleverest bit? It's this: every so often he does his utmost to stay on his feet. It puts enough doubt in the referee's mind; why would this man be diving when he stayed on his feet just five minutes beforehand? No wonder officials fall for it, just as Pedro Proenca did on Sunday afternoon. Having waved away all the other appeals, the referee finally cracked. Proenca's choices were a penalty, or a booking for Robben for diving. He gave the attacker the benefit of the doubt.
FIFA have clamped down on biting and extreme examples of fouling, but diving seems here to stay. It is 12 years since Brazil’s Rivaldo produced the worst example of it during a World Cup match with Turkey. FIFA fined the player £4,500 for bringing the game into disrepute, but football has not addressed this issue. There should be a no-tolerance policy adopted towards diving, but it continues apace.
— Stephen Derricott (@dstephen83) June 29, 2014
Back in March when Robben's theatrical ability had helped Bayern Munich see off Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League, this onlooker observed that the coach Pep Guardiola would not concern himself with the moral rights or wrong of such poor sportsmanship - some call it gamesmanship, others will say blatant cheating - even when it detracts from the reputation of such a glorious squad.
The same can be said for the Dutch coach Louis van Gaal. If Robben's play-acting leads his country to the promised land of a first World Cup success, the star player's penchant for going to ground with ease will matter little.
He was involved in three key diving incidents in a match that somehow fell away from Mexico with only two minutes of normal time remaining. It is almost like a body of work.
Deep in added time in the first half, Robben should have been awarded a penalty when Rafael Marquez and Javier Moreno both missed the ball in trying to tackle him. And ended up piercing him.
In the second half, Robben threw himself at the boot of Miguel Layún in failing to unsuccessfully persuade the match official to blow for a penalty.
He then hurdled a late challenge by Marquez, but opted to jump quickly back to his feet before the excellent Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa halted his shop.
With all this brewing, it was perhaps little surprise when the referee finally fell for it, so to speak. Another clumsy challenge by Marquez in planting his foot to the ground three minutes into six added on gave Robben his moment.
With the match level at 1-1 and heading for extra-time, it was a horrendous error by a man of Marquez's experience, but you can't keep nibbling at the ankles of Robben. Substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar, brought on for Van Persie, kept his composure to rattle the penalty into the corner with Ochoa heading in the opposite direction.
With Robben throwing over the corner that enabled Sneidjer to bring the Dutch level on 88 minutes after Giovani Dos Santos had opened for Mexico on 48 minutes, they were given licence to win by Miguel Herrera's side's unique ability to self-harm.
This was the sixth straight time they have lost at this stage of the finals. For a football-obsessed nation boasting a population of 120 million, their ongoing elimination at the first knock-out stage is baffling. You have to go back to their hosting of the tournament in 1986 to discover the last time they reached the final eight.
Mexico could have had their own penalty in the first half when Hector Herrera was wiped out by the high boot of Ron Vlaar. They might have been 2-0 up entering the closing stages, but were penalised for dropping deeper and deeper on a 1-0 lead.
The Netherlands were hardly fortunate winners. The Dutch are not a great side, but outstanding individual contributions can make a difference. They are a hardy unit with three exceptional forward thinkers in their midst.
And one man in Robben who is willing to do anything it appears to ensure Oranje go one better after losing the final to Spain in South Africa four years ago.
After wins over Spain, Australia and Chile in the group stage and the puncturing of Mexican dreams, opportunity knocks for Robben and the Dutch in all sorts of ways.
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- Lionel Messi