The current Portuguese football team have made themselves notorious with their play-acting and diving during this World Cup, and they were roundly booed last night. The preening Cristiano Ronaldo and ageing Figo were the most glaring offenders. Both of them spoil their undoubted skill with histrionics and below-the-belt tactics.
The game in which they "beat" Holland to reach the quarter finals was especially disgusting. In the second half, hardly any football was played, as the Portuguese acted out their neuroses on the pitch, desperately defending their lead against a superior side by rolling hysterically on the ground whenever a Dutch player so much as looked at them.
Noone, aside from the Portuguese themselves, will be sorry to see them go. They represent the apogee of gamesmanship - something which is rife in the game (even Franz Beckenbauer, who fancies himself a bit of a gentleman, praises German players who gain a penalty by diving in the box). Most players sometimes succumb to it, but it should be resisted. Ronaldo complains that too few cards were handed out by the referee in the game against France. This is laughable, and would be true only if the cards were given out to players who indulge in diving and play-acting. But that is obviously the opposite of what the "show-pony" Ronaldo meant.
Having said all that, football players, like any of us, can change, and mature with time. One hopes the Portuguese team will shake off this unpleasant aspect of their otherwise attractive play in time for the European Championships in 2008.
BBC SPORT | Football | World Cup 2006 | Teams | Portugal | Ronaldo defiant after crowd abuse