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Canada - Panama, and How We're Like Them

Not from <i>this</i> Canada - Panama match, obviously... (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Not from this Canada - Panama match, obviously... (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Canada's 1-0 victory over Panama yesterday was a tremendous thing and I don't want to take anything away from a massive victory. Dwayne De Rosario's record-breaking goal knocked the immortal and classy Dale Mitchell out of the record books, but if the all-time national goalscoring record had to fall to De Rosario then I'm glad it fell like that: a heads-up free kick by Atiba Hutchinson to find De Rosario wide open on the doorstep while the Panamanians were still arguing a (perfectly legitimate) foul call. It was lucky, but that's not an insult; when you get a good break you can't ask for anything better than how Hutchinson and De Rosario converted it.

So hooray. A great achievement. I want to make that clear immediately.

We also noticed the Panamanian simulation tactics which made the first half in particular such an annoyance. Panama's Alberto Quintero didn't even have the decency to be a good diver, stumbling around seconds after light contact, rolling around and grabbing his face, and doing all this in the middle of the pitch for a negligible (or negative; how he must have rued all the time he had wasted once Panama had to try and fight a comeback) gain. Even by CONCACAF standards he was lousy, and it was his good luck he didn't see yellow. Referee Jeffrey Solis called a decent game but had trouble with his vision, such as giving Julian de Guzman a yellow card after an offense by Simeon Jackson presumably on the grounds that they're both short black guys.

I go over all this because I hope we notice that Canada is starting to dive and be unsportsmanlike with the best of them.

Will Johnson, Julian de Guzman, and Simeon Jackson were the worst offenders but there were others: Johnson, in particular, had a couple of really clumsy dives that would have stood out in a game without Quintero in it. A few players had smaller indulgences. And, worst of all, what Out of Touch rightly calls "Kenny Stamatopoulos's hidden ball trick" would have sent every Canadian fan around the world into howling paroxysms of outrage if it had happened to us. Stamatopoulos had the ball under control and deliberately knocked it back among the bench players to waste what, with the ensuing melee, was well over half a minute, and to throw Panama off their stride.

It's not like Canada's never bent the rules to gain an advantage before. Historically we did it with cheap shots and hopefully-undetected thuggery. Mark Watson's famous comment about the Japanese team in the Confederations Cup comes to mind: "they don't run so fast when they're lying on the ground". But diving is relatively recent: Canada's indulged from time to time, most notably at the last Gold Cup, but this cycle we're really seeing the Canadian players take what we used to deride as the Central American approach.

Now, you may defend it. It helped Canada win this soccer game. Panama certainly wasn't going to hold back from their bag of tricks. Quintero's antics were worse than any Canadian dive. All these things are true.

I'm not trying to make any judgments about whether this is a good thing or a bad one. I just want us all to acknowledge it's happening; that we're not so different from what we ranted against when it happened to us.