Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO, Brazil — The U.S. Men’s National Team did not need a reminder of how tightly things might be called at this summer’s World Cup, but they got one anyway.
The U.S. watched the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia from its team hotel on Thursday, including the game-winner Neymar scored after Fred embellished contact to draw a controversial penalty kick. Some of the Americans admitted Friday that they did not necessarily agree with the call that has been discussed and analyzed at length around the world, but said it helped clarify how games may be officiated this summer.
“Being a defender, that was a tough one to see,” said centerback Matt Besler. “But I think it was a good one to see because it’s a lesson that maybe some of us learned just by watching. It’s going to be called tight in the penalty box, so we’ve got to be careful.”
FIFA tried to deliver that message to U.S., and presumably other teams, before the World Cup even began. The sport’s international governing body sent referees to visit the Americans two days before the opener, and the match officials went over some of the things they would be looking for at this World Cup.
“(The referees) say that some rules will be hard and we have to watch out with tackling in the box, holding on corner kicks and all that stuff,” said midfielder Jermaine Jones. “I think every team has the referees in the hotel, so we know it and (the message is) don’t touch the guys in the box.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard echoed that last sentiment from Jones when explaining the strategy behind trying to earn a call. Howard did not condone diving, but said that trying to win a call is part of the game.
“Any team I’ve ever been on, if we feel contact in the box, go down,” Howard said. “That’s not our responsibility. It’s the referee’s job. It’s a hard job, but it’s the referee’s job to get it right. If it’s a dive, you book the guy or you play on. If it’s a penalty, you call a penalty. But that decision lies with the referee.”