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May 23, 2010

Meet the kings of simulation

Ubha By Ravi Ubha
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

Every World Cup, or at least recently, the bigwigs vow to crack down on simulation. And every World Cup, we still get too much controversy. Diving, exaggerating an injury in an attempt to draw a yellow card or get a player sent off, is commonplace.

Who could forget Jurgen Klinsmann's con job in the 1990 final or Rivaldo's theatrics in 2002?

With players stronger and faster, sometimes the referees have it tough, and the lack of video review doesn't help.

Who will the refs keep a special eye on in South Africa? These 10 are a good start.

Emmanuel Eboue, Ivory Coast: Eboue gives the term "flying winger" new meaning. When offered the choice, Eboue, also a fullback, prefers hitting the ground to staying on his feet and dribbling past opponents using his ample pace. His dive for Arsenal against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final even led to criticism from Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, who's notoriously protective of his players in public. "It is clear there was no foul," Wenger raged. "I condemn and regret the attitude of Eboue."

Little has changed in four years.

Ronaldo
Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty ImagesRonaldo can score -- and fake injury -- with the best of them.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal: To some extent, Ronaldo deserves pity. Because he's so quick and so good, opponents are always trying to throw the Galactico off his game by hacking him down. Moving away from the physical Premier League helped the dashing former world player of the year in that respect.

However, his behavior against England at the 2006 World Cup was inexcusable. Up against Wayne Rooney, then a teammate at Manchester United, Ronaldo took pleasure in watching the feisty striker earn a red card, delivering one of the most famous winks in World Cup history.

England went on to lose on, yes, penalties.

Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast: When he's in the mood, Drogba must be among the top three strikers in the world. He scores loads of goals for Chelsea and the Ivory Coast, and bullies defenders like few others.

But touch him slightly, anywhere on the pitch, and Drogba goes down, only to usually rise seconds later. Lazarus.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez summed Drogba up best. "He is amazing because he is massive [but he goes down]," Benitez said in 2008. "It's very impressive. With Drogba it's important to have a good referee."

Steven Gerrard, England: Some in England feel the influx of foreign players has led to more diving. Maybe.

But homegrown cheats are also on show -- that's for certain.

Rooney isn't averse to going down in the box under minimal or no contact (see Manchester United versus Arsenal in 2004), and Liverpool's Gerrard is similar. Not content with picking on a newly promoted Sheffield United in 2006, Gerrard fell theatrically, without provocation, against tiny, tiny Andorra in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

Credit former England international David Platt with calling him out in the broadcast booth, albeit gently. "It's a bit of a dive from Steven," Platt said.

Robben
Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesRobben earns a perfect 10 for this dive.

Arjen Robben, Netherlands: Robben was a revelation for Chelsea on the wing, playing a huge role in helping the club end its 50-year title drought in 2005. It wasn't all good. Robben picked up yellow cards for diving and continues to moan to the referees at Bayern Munich.

Benitez (yes, him again) delivered a gem of a quote after Robben went down clutching his neck when tapped in the face by Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina four years ago. Reina saw red.

"I am in a hurry because I must go to the hospital because the injury was so serious that maybe he will be there for one week," Benitez quipped.

Sergio Busquets, Spain: Busquets must have been watching Robben, because his antics against Inter in the Champions League semifinals in April were laughable. Busquets got Thiago Motta dismissed, crumpling to the turf and holding his face when Motta fended off the midfielder with an arm.

Worse, Busquets took a peek at the ref while apparently suffering, making sure he got the desired result. Motta thus missed the final.

"It is not the first time he has done it," Motta said.

Don't feel overly bad for the Brazilian. When he suited up for the Catalans, Barcelona fans are adamant Motta was as bad.

Robinho, Brazil: Master of the step-over, twinkle toes turned out to be Dunga's joker in the pack instead of Ronaldinho, who had a far better season.

While at Real Madrid, Robinho orchestrated a much-talked-about dive against Barcelona in El Clasico. He was downright shambolic facing lowly Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier in 2008. With the game scoreless and Brazil getting desperate at home, Robinho writhed in agony after faint contact from defender Ignacio Garcia. Garcia got the boot.

In the end, Bolivia had the last laugh. Brazil's being held 0-0 by 10-man Bolivia didn't sit well with the Brazilian media.

Drogba, Eboue, Ronaldo, Robinho and, not to mention, Nani are in the same group in South Africa.

Alberto Gilardino, Italy: The veteran striker, part of Italy's victorious side in Germany, executed one of the worst dives ever against Celtic in the Champions League in 2007. It was one of those when he waits a few seconds before deciding to go down.

Adding humor to the situation was the reaction of then-teammate Gennaro Gattuso, who was stunned that a yellow card resulted.

No Fabio Grosso, who admitted to diving against Australia in Germany to earn a vital penalty, on the list? Grosso, surprisingly, didn't make Italy's final cut.

Javier Mascherano, Argentina: On a team filled with superstars, Liverpool's Mascherano is the grinder. And a good one. Without question, he's one of the top holding midfielders in the world, a favorite of both Benitez and Argentina manager Diego Maradona.

But Mascherano is highly temperamental, throws in more than his share of nasty tackles and overstates contact whenever possible. The lone reason he's not as high-profile as others is he's rarely inside the opponents' box.

Thierry Henry, France: Henry didn't dive or feign injury against Ireland in the playoffs but got pilloried for that handball that led to the decisive goal at the Stade de France in November.

But come on, did you really expect Henry to go to the ref and tell him to disallow it? That's naive.

In any case, he'll probably be on his best behavior.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.