Honor Among Thieves

If you're sick of the handwringing, woolgathering, blithering and moralizing about Luis Suarez - see you tomorrow! I'll have a complete, in-depth preview of the third-place game.

Ha ha! Previewing the third place game. GOD, no, can you imagine? That POS isn't even a tiebreaker in a bracket contest, is it?

Anyway, now that Uruguay are out, I was thinking we could address cheating in the game in a rational manner.

Except we can't.

The issue of Suarez's actions was asked and answered 24 years ago. Maradona lived out the Pascal wager of cheating to win, and the whole world took note.

It's forgotten now what a terrible risk Maradona was taking. There were forty minutes left, after all, and there was no score at the time. If Maradona had been sent off, England would have strolled to victory. Sure, a referee who couldn't see a handball certainly wasn't going to send off the most famous player in the world, but it's doubtful Maradona even considered that when he put his flap up.

Three minutes later, Maradona scored what his admirers called The Most Beautiful Goal Ever - judge for yourself:

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rW-lK9F6TU"]YouTube- Maradona Goal V England 1986[/ame]

Me, I'm surprised they don't call it "Worst Defense Ever." When England fans say the game would have been different if Lampard's goal had counted against Germany? They're crazy. They didn't have the talent or the mental toughness this year. But in 1986? Well...that looks like the defense of a team that had been robbed horribly.

Except, well, after the handball goal, no one told England to give the ball away so soon from the center circle kickoff, and it did sort of behoove the defenders to recall that there was still some time left to play, and such.

Lineker did get one back late, which you would think would raise some questions about the justice of the result. It's a little surprising that England doesn't get more sympathy for having been on the wrong end of that decision, but maybe that was the cost of being England in 1986. The national team itself was largely a likeable bunch, unlike future versions, but the reputation of their fans was at an all-time low.

Hated teams can be robbed with impunity - Argentina would learn this four years later in Rome.

Maradona was still beloved worldwide at this point, so it's interesting to speculate what would have become of his reputation if his cheating had led to defeat. It didn't, of course. The course of the game changed in ways we still feel today. Diego Maradona is still the only footballer to have been portrayed by Ron Jeremy.

And in the past week, of course, when Maradona's protege Luis Suarez preserved Uruguay's hopes, the world outside Ghana and its partisans either shrugged, or nodded its vigorous approval. You play the game to win. Gallant losing is for losers. Sportsmanship is for schmucks.

But then, how to explain this:

Thierry Henry was - well, I don't know if "vilified" is the right word, seeing as how he was clearly and obviously guilty as charged.

But why? Maradona is still beloved in many quarters, respected far more than many athletes with a similar career path. Suarez was rehabilitated almost instantly, outside Ghana - and it's unlikely Suarez will need to change his vacation plans. Yes, I know, I'm sure Ghana's a lovely country.

Henry did something at least as important - you can't win the World Cup if you don't get into the tournament. Henry saved his federation millions of francs. He gave his fans continued hope. He played to win.

Yet even the French were embarrassed. The only person to jump to Henry's defense was a notorious mental defective.

Maybe it's just a matter of who the villains and victims are, and it's ridiculous to ask for consistency. There are no fans who support Argentina, France, and Uruguay, and Anglo-Irish-Ghanaians are in similarly short supply. So Henry paid the price for being French, and for having victimized the adorable gutsy Irish.

(God, the Irish and public relations. Have I mentioned recently that Patrick should have kept the snakes and driven out the Irish?)

(Stow it, you whiners, "Loney" is an Irish name.)

If Henry didn't handle the ball, we would have been deprived of the finest comedy of the tournament. But has he been forgiven? Quite the opposite - according to rumor Thierry Henry is about to be driven out of organized soccer. (Red Bulls reference.)

So, fine, we're fans. If our side does it, it's good. If those ********ers do it, it's bad.

But what kind of game do you want to watch, anyway? You can't exactly pass a rule saying it's okay for your favorite team to cheat, or that the laws don't apply to famous players. After all, even the most hated teams have fans somewhere.

Not every player will have the opportunity to swat the winning goal off the line. Most will settle for, say, diving. Or tackling with their studs up. Or faking injury.

Cheating, after all, is a great equalizer. Not everybody gets to cheer for the best team, so if our boys put in a little extra mustard or meringue, well, they're fighting for the shirt, aren't they? Stay down, you might get a card out of it.

Of course, good teams can cheat as well as bad teams, and where's the equalizer then? We just end up watching two teams cheating, and we blame the ref for being blind or bought.

Eventually, the World Cup champion will be the team that does those things the best. I make no comparisons with the current finalists. (Although the reader interested in further research on the topic may consult The Gospel of the ********ing Obvious.)

Most people would rather see their team win than see a good game. Well, here we are. Happy?

Had FIFA suspended Maradona in 1986, it's possible we might have a tournament where the best football team wins. Now? Who cares? It's all about winning.

Is there a solution? Well, not really. It's in no one's interest to change anything. Spain and Holland would do literally anything to get that star on their boob, and we're nowhere near the point where watching two teams cheat is going to get lower ratings than watching two teams play.

And, short of FIFA instituting shari'a law, there simply is no punishment to compare with the potential reward - Maradona's career proves that.