FIFA must take a stand on cheating

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is currently recovering from an operation to fix an unknown ailment (an enlarged ego, possibly?), but he'll have plenty to occupy his thoughts during his recuperation.

Apart from sifting through a bunch of "get well soon" cards from his, er, adoring legions across the globe, Blatter needs to get his mind around how to handle the cheating controversy that has engulfed the sport.

Thierry Henry's deliberate handball that helped put France through to the World Cup at the expense of the Republic of Ireland is the first topic that the soccer world will demand Blatter to answer. FIFA has already decreed that the playoff game cannot and will not be replayed, yet there is still action Blatter could take.

There have been calls for Henry to be banned from the tournament, which may seem harsh at first glance. However, Irish players like Shay Given and Robbie Keane will be denied the chance to participate due to his actions, so why should Henry get a free pass?

As usual, it's highly unlikely that Blatter will take any real productive action, especially when there is a big-name player from a leading nation involved. But he's facing growing pressure to do something about the fair-play issue that is soccer's current primary topic of discussion.

Henry's indiscretion only temporarily diverted attention from the diving epidemic that has rocked the game, and it must be addressed before next year's World Cup. If video replays are not a realistic option, according to Blatter, then he needs to find another solution to cut down on the growing need to feign injury.

The behavior of leading managers is not exactly helping. Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez spoke out strongly against diving earlier this season, insisting that it is a stain on the sport and needs to be eradicated. Yet Benitez refused to censure his own player, David N'Gog, for a blatant dive that won a penalty in a recent game against Birmingham.

Soccer sure has some headaches, and the bedridden Blatter has much to consider. Over to you, Sepp.

Weekend Best XI

1. Get him some Advil

Bob Bradley did a fine job in steering the U.S. to the World Cup, but he faces a stern test once he gets there. The structure of the draw for the tournament means that the U.S. is in the worst possible pot, which dictates it can't face any of the weakest sides in the same group. The U.S. is virtually guaranteed to be up against three strong opponents.

2. Get him a beer

Jermain Defoe might have just booked his spot on England's World Cup squad after smashing five goals past Wigan in an extraordinary 9-1 English Premier League rout on Sunday. Defoe struck a hat trick in only seven second-half minutes and added two more to put himself ahead of Michael Owen in Fabio Capello's pecking order.

3. Get him some earplugs

It seems we're always talking about Rafa Benitez, so here we go again. Benitez faces his latest do-or-die game this week, with Liverpool needing to beat Hungarian outfit Debrecen to stand any chance of advancing in the UEFA Champions League. Failure to do so will put the Benitez-haters into overdrive – and probably cost him his job.

4. Keep an eye on …

Arsenal striker Robin van Persie's knee injury. Van Persie has gone to extreme lengths to minimize his layoff time, having horse placenta injected into his knee with the hope that it will help him heal faster. His involvement is crucial if Arsenal is to stay on course in the EPL and Champions League.

5. Catch a flight to …

Barcelona. Next weekend's clash between Barca and Real Madrid could go a long way toward deciding the fate of the La Liga title. The hosts have some problems, though, with Lionel Messi headlining a list of six injured players who are in doubt for the Nov. 29 contest.

6. Useless and completely made up statistic of the week

11 percent – The number of people in Seattle who do not own a Seattle Sounders scarf.

7. Sad goodbye

More than 15,000 mourners turned up to a stadium mass in Monterrey to honor Mexican star Antonio De Nigris last week. The 31-year-old De Nigris, who played for Greek side Larissa, died of a suspected heart attack on Nov. 16. He represented Mexico 16 times.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Cristiano Ronaldo. After a nice little break – sorry, injury layoff – Ronaldo is ready to return to Real Madrid in fine spirits. While he was out, Portugal squeezed into the World Cup, Madrid ascended to the top of La Liga and his ankle problem has healed faster than expected.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

David Beckham. Sunday's MLS Cup final was Beckham's final game for the Los Angeles Galaxy until July of next year. He'll depart for a loan spell at AC Milan and potentially the World Cup in South Africa with England.

10. Get excited about …

UEFA Champions League. It's back this week and matchday five will go a long way toward finalizing the 16 knockout phase places. It'll be nervous times for some big teams, with AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid all needing points and Bayern Munich and Liverpool seeking a miracle.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Check out Giorgia Palmas, partner of Bologna winger Davide Bombardini.

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