PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2006, 12:00am

Berlin: So is this the beautiful game, or what? We have seen players cheat and con referees into giving penalties, we have seen players fake injuries and dupe referees into giving free-kicks, and we have seen players applauding the referee when an opponent is sent off.

What is happening? Has it become so important to win players must lose all the self-respect and sportsmanship that is supposedly ingrained in every footballer's soul? How can you sleep at night knowing you have conned your way to success?

I would normally rub my hands in glee if opponents get the better of Australia in cricket or rugby union, where they dominate. But at this World Cup, the Socceroos were one of my favourite teams, simply because of their refreshing approach, uncluttered by modern-day cynicism. Sadly the Aussies fell victim to a calculated piece of play-acting by Italy's Fabio Grosso, who earned a penalty by tumbling over Australia defender Lucas Neill inside the big box.

Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Francesco Totti duly obliged to give Italy a 1-0 win. It was a huge call by the referee with the 90 minutes about to end, and extra time beckoning.

Medina had made a number of dubious calls earlier, including the red-carding of an Italian player early in the second half. He, like most of his fellow referees, are only too eager to reach into their pockets.

Fifa has called for referees to stamp out foul play. This has resulted in a rash of yellow cards and sendings-off. Their task has not been made any easier by cheating players who must ultimately take responsibility. Instead of trying to win games by scoring goals, it seems most of them try to win by getting their opponents sent off.

Hosts Germany have been getting stronger and stronger as each game goes by. But I felt downright sorry for Lukas Podolski, their two-goal hero against Sweden, when he patted the referee on the back and applauded him after he had red-carded a Swede. Is this the image you want to portray to thousands of kids watching on television?

Would Pele, Franz Beckenbauer or Bobby Moore have done what Podolski did? Children need heroes. But they need Roy of the Rovers' heroes. Sadly there are more cheats than gentlemen at this World Cup. That is the way modern football is.

I wonder, if football is a physical, contact game at all. These guys should try taking on Samoa in rugby. Here, the players go down like ninepins at the slightest touch, clutching their ankles, especially if they are inside the penalty area. Defenders fake injury if they know they have committed a foul. I firmly believe Fifa should bring in a rule that if a player is carried off, he cannot return for three minutes.

Also, it is time for a video referee. Like cricket's third umpire or rugby union's referee who adjudicates on tries, the only way to make the game as beautiful as it once was is to introduce a system whereby an official watching replays can help the referee on the field.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter is against this because he thinks it will undermine the authority of the referee. That is outmoded thinking, such technology will assist them to do a better job.

Then you won't see sights like Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko diving to earn the dubious penalty against Tunisia, or what Grosso did to the Aussies. It is sad that such monumental decisions cannot be referred to a third person. If you, watching at home can see the players cheat, but the referee on the field is conned, then something is wrong with this beautiful game.

Number of the Day: 25. The record number of red cards handed out by referees so far.