Cristiano Ronaldo bends it like Beckham in Armani campaign

Talk about your World Cup. Soccer stud Cristiano Ronaldo is about to bend it like Beckham as the face (and the abs and the butt) of a new fall and winter Emporio Armani campaign for underwear and jeans. The ads were set to splash around June 25 when the captain of Team Portugal plays Brazil, but the photos released beforehand were enough of a tease to establish soccer as the sexiest thing since ... well, sex.

The formula between fashion and sports usually needs a third ingredient to make it really explode, and Cristiano Ronaldo has been on the case.You see, it isn't enough that this 25-year-old is the highest paid player in the sport's history (he makes around $16 million a year), or that by all accounts he's worth it, or that he's gorgeous and electric. No, he also needs some connection to a Hollywood celebrity. (Why? Because that's the way things work.)

Fortunately, he dates models and other women who bring their own slew of paparazzi along with their hairdressers and bodyguards. There are pictures of him with Paris Hilton in Beverly Hills and Kim Kardashian in Spain. This means he's covered, in terms of publicity, on sports, entertainment and fashion sites. It's all gravy for Armani, of course, but it could also be the tipping point in getting the U.S. (the teenage girl population, anyway) as rabid about "football" as the rest of the world.

Sure, David Beckham helped raise the profile of the sport, but Victoria Beckham, nee Posh Spice, did half the heavy lifting in terms of making Beckham a household name in the U.S. Notice that she did that heavy lifting in very short, tight skirts. See? That's the Bermuda Triangle of persuasive publicity: sports + fashion + Hollywood.

As of the day before the Portugal-Brazil match, 34,225 people on Cristiano's Facebook page "like" the photo of their hero in Armani briefs. Just wait till his 5 million other Facebook fans take a peek. Many of them will prefer it to seeing him in his No. 7 shirt, even though the number 7 has been good to him-on June 21, in the 87th minute, he scored the seventh goal in Portugal's 7-0 shutout of North Korea.

Personally, I think the cute haircut helps-not that he needs help. Sports Illustrated said "his current look might best be described as a gelled fauxhawk with a hint of a mullet," but that's harsh. Take it from a new soccer fan.
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