MADRID – Soccer players are renowned for stretching rules to gain an edge. Now the ball boys are getting in on the act.
Sevilla's 3-2 victory over Villarreal on Sunday was marred by what seems a growing trend in the Spanish league — extra balls thrown onto the field to stop play.
A video replay clearly showed a ball boy tossing another ball onto the field as Villarreal pushed upfield late in the game. Another ball was heaved onto the field from the seats above Villarreal's goal.
There were similar ploys during Real Madrid's visit to Osasuna in January, and relegation-threatened Zaragoza employed the tactic in a victory over Getafe last month.
The offending clubs were fined a paltry $877.
"Futbol is played with one ball...some people should learn before coming to stadiums and ruining a nice, exciting game," Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi wrote on Twitter after the defeat by Sevilla.
Referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco made mention of the extra balls at Sevilla in his match report, which means the Spanish soccer federation's disciplinary committee will have to study it. But it's unlikely to raise the penalty.
"We should look at altering the regulations," federation spokesman Jorge Carretero told The Associated Press on Monday. "The rules need to generate fines that are relative to the penalty. The problem with the current regulations is that they say a higher sanction can only be applied if the penalty is of a violent nature."
Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez even nudged aside a ball boy after he hesitated in handing a new ball to the Spanish 'keeper, who decided to fetch the ball that had been in play from behind the advertising boards.
"It's something you shouldn't expect to see at the stadium. In those moments when you're losing and they do these types of things you feel ready to act out stupidly, but you have to control yourself," Lopez said.
"What can you do? It's shameful. It's a question of sportsmanship."
Levante goalkeeper Gustavo Munua also experienced similar problems at Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Ball boys wasted time and often let the balls land short when Munua asked for them. Atletico won 4-1.
In January, Madrid lost 1-0 at the Reyno de Navarro Stadium, its league hopes beginning to slip away. Balls were sent onto the field as Madrid attacked, forcing play to stop.
Zaragoza, meanwhile, is desperately looking to avoid being dropped. Its finances are already a mess and relegation would compound a delicate situation.
Last month, Zaragoza was leading Getafe 2-1 with minutes to go when an extra ball rolled onto the field as the opposition attacked. The ball appeared to come from the Zaragoza dugout.
But for all the mounting evidence of shady tactics in clear view, the rulebook still holds sway.
"If it doesn't break the law according to statutes, then the committee can't really do much," Carretero said.