Seldom has the nickname "Matador" seemed as apt for Edinson Cavani as last Friday. Not because the Napoli striker was especially devastating as a finisher but because his particular joust with Giorgio Chiellini moved into realms of combat more appropriate to sports other than football: rugby, maybe. Or bullfighting.
The Juventus defender described the duel in a post-match interview: "Everyone saw what happened – plenty of physical contact."
Yes, and much of it was illegal: arm-locks on the Napoli striker, Chiellini grabbing Cavani's hair; Cavani using his elbows as bayonets to free himself. To a rugged player like Chiellini, all just a typical episode of what goes on in penalty areas all the time. "It's up to the referee to judge it," he said.
Week in, week out, officials are failing to penalise manhandling offences in penalty areas.
In Italy, goal-line officials are present to help spot and punish such offences. But these officials increasingly resemble police reinforcements sent to a crime zone and then told they should concentrate on jaywalking offences, rather than muggers or gunmen.
On Friday, one saw Cavani elbow Chiellini in the face. He recommended a yellow card. It ought to have been red. But if the rules were being properly applied, Chiellini would already have been sent off.
Until referees crack down firmly and collectively on the lawlessness prevailing in penalty areas at corners, or attacking free-kicks, the penalty-box wrestlemania will continue - as edifying a spectacle as bullfighting.
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