13 July ~ There is nothing that annoys football commentators more than seeing players wave an imaginary card after they have been fouled. Jonathan Pearce, Peter Drury and co seized on such displays during the World Cup with weary despair. Some of the things imported into British club football from abroad in recent times are tolerated – over-elaborate stepovers and wearing undershirts displaying messages for God are just about acceptable – but the card mime is beyond the pale.
Indeed, overseas players with British clubs have even been berated by team-mates on the field when they indulged in it, as happened notably with Fabrizio Ravanelli and Mikel Arteta in their first seasons in the Premier League.
Referees are supposed to be clamping down on the wavers via bookings. But the only time that I can recall this happening in the tournament was during Portugal v Brazil when Duda went into the book for demanding that Juan be sent off when he handled a cross destined for an unmarked Ronaldo. Except in that case replays proved him right – Juan ought to have gone.
Of course the card waving is gamesmanship, just like stealing a few yards at a free-kick or claiming a throw-in that you know is for the opposition. But you can see why it developed when teams get away with blatant thuggery as Holland did during the final.
The Dutch players set out to intimidate Spain in the expectation that they wouldn't be punished for it beyond an eventual booking. Partly this was because referees in finals are almost always inclined to go easy on offenders for fear of spoiling the spectacle – indeed it's plausible to think that they may receive instructions along these lines from FIFA. But it was also the case that Marc van Bommel in particular had got away with systematic hacking down of opponents in previous matches without so much as a ticking off.
Even when Howard Webb had flashed his yellow card a few times and made a show of telling the players to calm down, the fouling carried on. The Spanish threw themselves about a bit too but had the game been treated as a regular league encounter it's quite likely that they would have wrapped up a win well before full-time against nine or even eight opponents. If card-waving is going to be characterised as cheating, tactical fouling should be recognised as a much worse blight on the game. Richard Huston