Defending Italy — no, really

Far be it for me to defend Italian soccer in general. Every stereotype your soccer-bashing friends throw in your face is prevalent in the Italian game — nasty fans, match-fixing scandals, bad hair, exaggerated injuries and, of course, diving.

But diving to imply a foul that doesn’t exist and falling down to draw attention to an actual foul are two different things. The first is reprehensible. The second is more difficult to judge.

In the first half today, New Zealand’s Tommy Smith had a good handful of Daniele de Rossi’s shirt. De Rossi fell. Referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala whistled for a penalty kick.

Those are the facts. The interpretations varied.

While it’s easy to pile on Italy and particularly de Rossi, whose most notable contribution to a World Cup is a rearrangement of Brian McBride’s face, de Rossi’s actions don’t change the fact that a foul occurred. De Rossi could’ve pulled out a guitar and vuvuzela for a new folk song decrying the injustice that had befallen him, and he may have received a yellow for unsporting conduct. But the PK was still justified.

It’s not as if shirt-pulling in the box is some newly outlawed activity. Remember 1998, when U.S. referee Esse Baharmast was vilified and then exonerated when evidence emerged that he had indeed seen a shirt pulled in the Norway-Brazil game.

Wouldn’t all rather see refs be even stricter on such plays? After a few days of discussing Slovenia defenders bear-hugging American players in the box, a stronger stand on such contact seems justified.

Batres, to his credit, made the right call here. And he ignored a lot of less justified Italian tumbles.

Now if only we could go back and get rid of the blatant dive that saw Italy past Australia in 2006 …

Virtual Viewing Party: Monday Monday

What? You’re going to work? Then you’ll simply have to follow along with us.

Our hosts are:

Netherlands-Denmark, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN
Japan-Cameroon, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN
Italy-Paraguay, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
(all on ESPN Deportes / / Univision)

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