Still same old soccer

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Unlike other sports that have allowed technological advances or rule changes to alter the face of the game, soccer is much the same as it was a century ago.

Although constant tinkering with the ball has certainly had an effect on tourneys as recent as this summer's World Cup, the skill level of the game's top stars is still able to shine through as it did when Sir Stanley Matthews, Garrincha or Pele dominated.

Granted, improved fitness levels have made players on the whole stronger, faster and more skilled, the key to comparing the game's greats is to keep in mind how much better they were than their peers in their respective eras.

"You can't compare guys of yesteryear to today's players," agreed Flames defenceman Andrew Ference.

"Because sports are always advancing guys like Thierry Henry or Ronaldinho are better than Pele. That doesn't take away from how great Pele was in his day."

Even though the condition of the world's top pitches has never been better thanks to breakthroughs in turf maintenance, FIFA recently approved use of the simulated FieldTurf at McMahon Stadium for sanctioned matches. Either way, no longer can games turn on a bad bounce courtesy of a bumpy field as happened on occasion in the '70s.

Although teams use extensive video breakdowns to target weaknesses in opponents, FIFA officials still refuse to use video replays to determine goals or offsides.

The World Cup in Germany showcased the fact referees are looking to crack down on fouls like never before, which could have the effect of allowing skilled players more room to showcase their talents.

However, given the backlash from fans, exactly how long that crackdown will last is anyone's guess.


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