Cristiano Ronaldo felt a foor brush his thigh. He tumbled over. Simone Inzaghi felt a tug on his hurt. He went to ground. And two men cheated to get two penalties - and two goals - for their teams. But the refs weren't always fooled. Two others had to live with yellow cards when the refs wouldn't buy in the Champions League.
LONDON: Two cheats prospered in the Champions League, and two were caught in the act and shown disciplinary cards for attempting to deceive the referee.
Assessing the “crime” of diving, or falling in the penalty area, to obtain an unfair and possibly decisive advantage in the multimillion-dollar pursuit of football's richest tournament is a subjective judgment.
On the evidence of Wednesday, the actors have a 50-50 chance of succeeding in their deception - and the sanction for those caught in the act is inadequate.
In Stuttgart, Cristiano Ronaldo, the wonderfully balanced teenage winger of Manchester United, tumbled over his own feet – to put it charitably – and won a penalty kick, which his colleague Ruud van Nistelrooy smashed into the net. It was only a partial means to an end, because United still lost, 2-1.
In Rome, Simone Inzaghi felt his shirt ever so slightly tugged from behind, fell backward to the turf and rose swiftly to take the penalty kick that saved his team, Lazio, from defeat against Sparta Prague. The penalty squared the match at 2-2 and stole a point for the Roman club.
Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn't, that the referees in Stuttgart and Rome were from Italy and France, respectively.
Their leagues are among the best for refereeing standard, and still, according to my hindsight and the endless TV video playbacks, they were fooled.
There, of course, lies the problem. Instant television technology can analyse incidents from a score of camera angles, while the referee on the field has one pair of eyes and an instant to blow the whistle or refrain from doing so.
Twice on Wednesday also, we saw the other side of the conundrum, when the referee judged that a player had tried to trick him.
In Amsterdam, Rafael van der Vaart, the bright young thing of Ajax, went to ground rather too easily for the English referee Paul Barber - and was shown the yellow card for diving.
Van der Vaart protested sheepishly but paid no great price for his misdemeanour: Ajax beat Bruges, 2-0, thanks to a brace of goals from Wesley Sonck, who moved from the Belgian team Genk in the summer.
The ultimate fall guy on Wednesday was Andrija Delibasic. He was sent off for Partizan Belgrade seconds before halftime in Marseille, at which point the Serbian team was holding the home team, 0-0.
Delibasic was shown a yellow card for a foul by the Italian referee Domenico Messina in the 41st minute. Within a matter of minutes, he was sent off when the referee decided Delibasic had contrived a fall in the penalty area.
Marseille then overran the 10 men of Belgrade, with the home team's powerful, Didier Drogba, scoring all three goals in a 3-0 victory.
So, out of eight Champions League games played on Wednesday, four were shaped by players going down in the penalty area.
Sadly, two of the culprits, Cristiano Ronaldo and van der Vaart, are among the most gifted of Europe's new wave of talent. Their coaches are among the first to cry foul when an opponent dives.
The corollary to all this is that defenders also cheat.
If you studied the photographs of Inzaghi against Sparta Prague, you would see myriad moments when Czech defenders do have handfuls of his shirt, seeking to put him off balance or to prevent his rapid steps toward the ball.
This, too, is a matter for the referee's judgment. This, inevitably, leads to a frustrated striker deciding that if he is getting no protection from the tugging, the arm wrestling, and the body-checking, he might resort to being artful to gain his “due” reward.
If it all sounds like a jungle of skullduggery in the tight clinches in and around the goal, then both forwards and defenders probably have a case for claiming they are being robbed of the intended spirit of the game.
Some, on the other hand, argue that the controversy adds spice to the sport brought into our homes in minute detail.
Meanwhile, there were games in there somewhere.
Stuttgart's victory over Manchester United was a merited triumph for a young and relatively inexperienced German team against one of the perpetual big spenders in Europe.
Stuttgart played with consistent vigour and order and broke through some flimsy United defending to score neat goals from Imre Szabics and Kevin Kuranyi.
Those goals, within a couple of minutes of one another, exposed a lack of concentration by the Manchester defenders, led by Rio Ferdinand. They left Tim Howard, the American goalkeeper for United, without a chance - and defeat for him was less than deserved, considering he had saved a legitimate Stuttgart penalty with a magnificent dive.
Money cannot buy everything, at least not all the time.
The first inquest of the Roman Abramovich spending era at Chelsea is under way after the Russian's new London club lost at home Wednesday, 2-0, to Besiktas of Istanbul.
The Turks were organized in defense, especially after being reduced to 10 men after striker Ilhan Mansiz got himself sent off for two stupid acts.
He twice ran with the ball after the referee's whistle had blown for infringements, giving the official little choice but to show him the yellow card. Thus he sacrificed himself and condemned his team to surviving the final half-hour a man short.
Sergan Yalcin, the Besiktas centre-forward, had scored twice in the first half, each time preying on novice errors by Chelsea.
The first goal went past Carlo Cudicini, the keeper, courtesy of a deflection by John Terry. The second came after first Marcel Desailly and then Cudicini misjudged a long clearance by the Besiktas goalkeeper, allowing Yalcin a free shot.
Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea coach who many assume is not really wanted by Abramovich and his advisers, again risked the criticism that he tinkers too much with the squad as he changed the formation for the match.
“Maybe,” Ranieri said. “But if you make two big mistakes and the other team scores from them, it is very difficult to say what is wrong or not.”
His point is, who can plan for Desailly, one of the most experienced and reliable defenders in football, falling over accidentally?
It makes a change from attackers doing it deliberately. – IHT