Arjen Robben blatantly dove multiple times in the Netherlands' comeback win over Mexico. He was also fouled multiple times. These happenings were not necessarily concurrent, though on certain plays they were, and they appeared to be on the final, fatal penalty call in the box. That's an unsatisfying summation of events, but it's the closest you're going to get to something everyone can agree upon.
The inconsistency of the whistles, blown and swallowed, was knotty enough to leave supporters diametrically split on whether the end result was a fair one. The karmic complexity of the match, which featured multiple potential divergences, makes it hard to declare either side unjustified. But mere minutes after the conclusion of the match, Arjen Robben had to go and twist the knife a little deeper into Mexican backs, acknowledging one flop—but pointedly not the decider.
"I have to apologize," Robben told Dutch TV. "In the first half I took a dive. The one at the end was a penalty."
Robben is one of the great actor-athletes of his generation, a supreme diver with (and this is most important) the legitimate dribbling chops to sell it. Anyone can fling his arms and go down. It takes true genius, skill, and savvy to deploy it sparingly enough to make it believable.
Every so often—often enough to keep referees off-balance—Robben will refuse to go down. He's fast enough and sure-footed enough to dribble through or around trouble instead of seeking it out. Think his second goal vs. Spain, all those extra yards traveled to put the ball on his left foot, instead of cutting inside into contact and a 50/50 shot at a penalty. If a player can (and does) make this sort of effort, he tends to earn the benefit of the doubt on future calls. Robben pockets good will, and spends it when absolutely necessary, say in stoppage time of a tie game.
Frustrated by a Mexican defense that was stout enough in the run of play, and by the revelation that's been Memo Ochoa, Robben was in full fall-apart mode yesterday afternoon. He hit the grass on a challenge from Hector Moreno in the first half (the dive he admitted to) and loudly appealed to Portuguese ref Pedro Proenca. No dice. In the second, Robben again splashed down upon the slightest of contact with Miguel Layun, and angrily remonstrated with Proenca. Again, play was waved on.
So, it was with Robben's repeated complaints of abuse still ringing in his ears that Proenca blew his whistle in the 92nd minute.
Be you Mexican fan searching for proof of chicanery or Dutch fan seeking a foul, you can watch it a hundred times and still find what you're looking for. The photo at the top of this post is infuriating—Robben had clearly made up his mind to leave his feet well before Rafa Marquez's clumsy challenge. But no matter how grievously wounded Robben painted himself, there was contact.
There's little to say to that directly. Instead, Mexico coach Miguel Herrera saved his blame for the referee that allowed Robben's constant diving to go unpunished.
"It seems to me that the reason we were eliminated was the man with the whistle. Although their first goal was good and came from a mistake on our part, the game was heading to extra time. But if the referee invents a penalty of that size, you leave the World Cup after circumstances not created by you. And Robben dived three times for penalties that didn't exist. He should have been cautioned. If you do that to the guy who tries to cheat, then he can't cheat again."
Herrera claimed this was the third game Mexico had been the victim of poor refereeing, and blamed FIFA for assigning a UEFA ref to a match involving a UEFA side. ("When they send a referee from the same confederation where your opponents come from, what do you expect?")
I don't think geography need be cited to explain Mexico getting Robben'd. They are far from the first nation and they won't be the last—the only question is which Robben does you in. This tournament so far, it's been world-class talent Robben; yesterday it was grass-eating shithead Robben. One can't survive without the other, and they're both especially infuriating for the other's existence.