Owen reignites diving debate with World Cup confessions

ENGLAND striker Michael Owen has defended the right of players to dive if they have been touched and admitted deliberately going to ground to win penalties in two separate World Cup matches.

Owen insists falling is elective in three quarters of all penalty decisions and that enticing contact from defenders is “a skill”. He confessed to choosing to tumble against Argentina at the 1998 finals and versus the same opponents four years later, but said it was not the same as the “blatant cheating” of those who dive without any contact.

The former Manchester United and Liverpool star’s comments come amid fresh calls for retrospective punishment for simulation, following incidents involving Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale in last weekend's Premier League fixtures.

“It’s topic of the week,” said the Stoke player, who has enjoyed a reputation as an exceptionally clean player throughout his career.

“I’d go as far as to say that for penalty decisions 75 per cent plus could stay on their feet. If they get touched it’s ok to go down.

“I’ve been guilty – I played in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina, I was running flat out, got a nudge and went down. Could I have stayed up? Probably. Four years later I could have stayed on my feet -- I had a decent gash on my shin, but I could have stayed up.

“It’s very difficult to talk about that to people who haven’t played the game. There is tremendous skill to trying to outwit an opponent.

“You know as soon as you’ve got them in the box they’re petrified of sticking their leg out – it’s a skill to get them one on one. No one’s for blatantly diving, of course they’re not, but there’s a part of a striker that tries to entice the leg to come out and win a penalty. It’s a skill and I don’t think it’ll leave the game.”

Former referee Pierluigi Collina, now in charge of European officiating and speaking with Owen at the Leaders in Football conference in London yesterday, said players were entitled to go to ground deliberately if impeded.

“A player has the right to fall down if a foul was committed,” said Collina, who awarded Owen the penalty in the 2002 match. “The foul is committed if he falls down or not. It’s very different if he falls down without any contact – this is the problem.

“In most cases when we are talking about cheating it’s because there is no contact or the contact is provoked by the attacker moving their leg from the running direction and trying to find the leg to be fouled.

“If the defender arrived later on the ball than the attacker and found the attacker’s leg, then why does he have to stand?”