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The enemy within

sports Updated: May 02, 2011 23:29 IST

To be remembered and respected as a truly exceptional football team, perhaps the best ever, Barcelona’s players must stamp out the play-acting that tarnishes their oh-so graceful play.

Tuesday, against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, would be a good place to let their football, not unsightly theatrics, do the talking. By rising above what is expected to be an ill-tempered match, Barcelona can redeem itself. Rolling tumbleweed-like on the pitch in feigned mortal agony or exaggerating the pain of a brush to the face from a rival isn’t just uncool and unmanly, it’s also cheating if designed to get the referee to whip out a yellow or red card.

That means you Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez. That Barca trio all looked guilty of making needless drama from admittedly bruising challenges in Barcelona’s 2-0 first-leg defeat of Madrid last week.

Slow-motion video that Madrid posted on its website suggested Pepe may not even have grazed Alves’ leg with his studs-first tackle that earned him a red card in the 61st minute. Even if there was contact, Alves made the absolute most of it, rolling across the grass like a 4-year-old in a gym class.

Capping the dismaying ugliness of it all was the way in which both sides’ players repeatedly harangued ref Wolfgang Stark like squawking dolphins around a trainer with a bucket of fish. Such tactics and behavior should be beneath a team that makes an art-form of kicking and sharing a ball.

This blowout of ‘clasicos’ - four Barca-Madrid matches in 18 days - hasn’t been much of a spectacle. Absorbingly tense but not pleasing to the eye. Fear of losing to their classic rival seems to have suppressed both teams’ drive to win. Still, Barcelona has won the moral high ground by largely hewing to its philosophy of attack, attack, attack. That has had the corollary effect of making Madrid’s defensive tactics and play-blocking physicality look nasty.

But winning cleanly and honestly is important, too. That’s what Barca manager Pep Guardiola should tell his players before sending them out for that place in the Champions League May 28 final at Wembley.

Surely, Barca doesn’t want to be cast as a team of whiners and divers. The high quality of its football deserves honest play of the highest order, too.