The Greek Paradox

Zeno of Elea showing youth the doors to true and false – Public Domain


Zeno’s paradox about Achilles and the tortoise posits that the Greek warrior will never catch the slower reptile if the latter starts with a lead, since whatever point Achilles reaches will have already been reached by the crawling tortoise. With a lead, the tortoise will, paradoxically, always retain a certain distance ahead of the faster Achilles, even though logically we know that eventually Achilles will overtake the tortoise by applying simple physics to the hypothetical situation. Hence the philosophical contradiction, and the reductio ad absurdum.

Greece’s run in the group stage of Euro 2012 could be described in a similarly paradoxical fashion, as the only team with a positive goal differential in Group A, Russia, failed to squeak through, while Greece will be moving on thanks to Giorgos Karagounis’ seemingly all-too-easy goal in first-half injury time. Russia sped out of the gate with a convincing win over the Czech Republic, while Greece stumbled in its opener, incurring a red card and drawing with co-host Poland. But with poise and patience, the Greeks were able to overtake the Russian Bear, proving once again that slow and steady indeed wins the race; Greece’s win today was their first of the tournament.

Yet Greece heads into the knockout round without their aforementioned star, as Karagounis will miss the next match due to yellow card accrual following a highly questionable call in the second half in which he was believed to flop in the box. Replays confirm that he was indeed tripped, if ever so slightly; a no-call may have been appropriate but a yellow on him for acting will go down as a conspicuous asterisk next to this match and, more importantly, the next, most likely against the disciplined and inventive Germans.

While I certainly applaud any measures that ameliorate the problem of overacting, especially in the box, this call is so demonstrably unjust that it negates its ostensible intent. Instead of making the game more fair, this call has done the exact opposite, and indeed only adds more fodder to the debate about instant replay or the ability of coaches to challenge on-the-field decisions. Sure, Karagounis’ repeated signs of the crucifix after the call will ultimately fall on deaf ears (read that however you want), but his animated reaction was admittedly appropriate, and the rule of yellow-card accrual should be re-examined, clearly. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: giving each coach one challenge per match, much like in the NFL, would go a long way toward avoiding these tournament-altering calls and their echoing repercussions.

But for now, such is soccer, and Greece will be happy with simply advancing, considering their slow start and the impressive lead the Russians built at the start of the tournament.

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