Robben was never going to look a gift horse in the mouth

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Sticking out a leg to invite Arjen Robben to dive over it seconds before the end of a delicately-poised World Cup knockout match – is this the equivalent of footballing suicide?

It is tough bringing to mind any Dutch stars of the small screen – if you said Van Der Valk, that Seventies TV series was actually British. But they certainly have one in Robben.

The winger will turn 31 next January, but age has not diminished his many gifts including his penchant for the theatrical.

It was Robben who fell over in exaggerated fashion when clipped by the leg of Mexico captain Rafael Marquez deep in stoppage time. After two previous penalty refusals, he was not to be denied.

But the key word to remember in all this is contact. Replays suggested there was some and, in the heat of battle at critical junctures, you should play things safe and not give referees a decision to make – especially after two previous incidents. In games of fine margins, discipline is key.

Granted, Robben’s admission that he did dive in the first half for one incident will have added fuel to Mexico’s fire of indignation after their sixth successive knockout at the last 16 of the World Cup, as will the fact that FIFA will not be taking action against the Bayern Munich player.

FIFA head of media Delia Fischer said the disciplinary committee would only look retrospectively at “serious infringements” of fair play rules – diving only carries a yellow card sanction – and that Robben would face no action.

Mexico’s exit was harsh on Marquez, who, in a World Cup where not too many defenders have particularly passed muster, looked one of the more imposing, secure figures – even at 35.

That was what made his momentary and oh-so-costly indiscretion all the more surprising.

On a human level, it was hard not to feel sympathy for the Mexicans, who have lit up the World Cup, along with the Chileans.

On a human level, it was hard not to feel for Mexico coach Miguel Herrera at the final whistle in Fortaleza. In the end, it proved all too much with his post-match jostling with Robin van Persie borne out of sheer dismay.

All this after his side were denied two ‘goals’ against Cameroon and having had strong shouts for penalties rebuffed against Croatia. What have Mexico done to upset people?

But, in the final analysis, the Mexicans fell to a self-inflicted wound.

If one of Herrera’s players had not gone down at the other end if a Dutch rival had caught him late on, however slightly, questions would have been asked.

It is called professionalism. Robben was never going to look such a gift horse in the mouth at the end, was he?

Liam Cooper. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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