World Cup Morning Report – Gamesmanship issue needs to be addressed if modern game is to improve

Portugal against Brazil yesterday was not only a massive anticlimax, with the first half in particular being an unexpectedly gritty and aggressive affair, instead of the fast-paced, flowing contest the players on the pitch suggested it could be. It was also a game that accentuated the problem of totally petty and unnecessary gamesmanship in today’s realm of modern football.

The game was billed as one of the fixtures of the group stages, as two teams with a wealth of awesome technical ability and attacking ambition faced up to each other to decide who finished top of Group G. In total contrast to what we expected, it simply became an exhibition of prima-donnas either tumbling to the turf at the slightest bit of physical contact, declaring personal war with an opposition player in seemingly seeing who could hurt whom the most, or gesturing childishly to the referee that an opponent should be booked or sent off. These kinds of histrionics have sadly not been confined to this clash of the titans at this World Cup, as a number of games in the group stage, most conspicuously Slovakia against Italy and Chile against Switzerland, were blighted by ludicrously dramatic performances from the players often known as ‘simulation’.

Fortunately for yesterday’s Portugal-Brazil encounter the referee handled the rather ugly issues with great competence and aplomb. He rightly booked both Pepe and Felipe Melo for rash challenges on each other as they explicitly decided to wage a personal vendetta against one another, correctly booked Tiago for a dive in the penalty area, as well as immediately waving his yellow card in the face of Duda as the Portuguese defender insisted on waving an imaginary red one in the referee’s. After Benito Archundia’s very shrewd clamp-down on the ridiculous plague of gamesmanship in the first half, the second half settled down suitably, despite the quality of the football being equally as woeful. Other referees should take note of the Mexican’s performance. He was perfectly tough on the players and did brilliantly to extinguish the fire of juvenile silliness that threatened to rage further, without being over-officious and developing a lust for power that some other officials have seemingly suffered from in previous games, as they booked players willy-nilly for honest fouls or perhaps even just shrugging their shoulders too aggressively.

Although most World Cup football is majestically thrilling (as has been proved in the last few days) and a beautiful and special thing for millions of people around the world, it is a sad fact that fans will have to put up with such ridiculous acts of gamesmanship. It is simply the way of the modern game. The issue clearly needs to be tackled head-on, and a positive start would be to referee such incidents as consistently as Mr Archundia. The key is for all referees to maintain a relentless consistency on these theatrical and puerile antics, and if that is done there would certainly be a greater chance of players thinking twice about maintaining their dignity and respect.

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