Let’s get one thing straight before delving into the Ireland-France controversy.
I was rooting for the Irish. Big time.
Who doesn’t like an upset? And what the Irish lack in talent and technical ability, they commendably make up in heart. Paul McShane and Liam Lawrence are hardly standouts for their clubs, but there they were at the majestic Stade de France on Wednesday night, grafting to no end. Giovanni Trapattoni has truly moulded a `team.’
But please, don’t blame Thierry Henry or the ref for what happened.
In case you’ve been on another planet the last 24 hours, Henry twice used his hand – it was as blatant as they come – before setting up William Gallas with the winner in extra time. France advanced to the World Cup 2-1 on aggregate.
Some have suggested Henry should have stopped play upon using his hand or sauntered to Swedish referee Martin Hansson after the fact, telling him it was a deliberate handball. Thus, the goal would have been disallowed.
You must be kidding. Absolutely kidding.
No one would ever, ever do that. Ah, you say, but volatile Italian Paolo di Canio famously stopped play while with West Ham in 2000, spurning a sure goal when he saw Everton keeper Paul Gerrard lying on the turf with a knee injury.
That was simply, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively unimportant league game. If di Canio had been representing Italy, in extra time, and he pulled a Henry, would he have been so holy then?
You play to the whistle, which is what Henry did.
Was what Henry did worse than Eduardo’s clear dive against Celtic in Champions League qualifying this year? What of Wayne Rooney’s dive against Arsenal that ended the Gunners’ unbeaten reign a few years ago?
Is Henry more of a cheat because the stakes were higher Wednesday?
Hansson clearly couldn’t see the incident properly – there were too many bodies in his way. His only mistake was motioning to the Irish players in the aftermath that the ball went off Henry’s midriff.
The assistant linesman might have had a view, although Gallas appeared to be in his way, too.
Hansson was superb Wednesday, apart from missing the handball. He was unfussy, letting the game flow, and didn’t award a penalty when the tricky Nicolas Anelka went down when colliding with Irish keeper Shay Given earlier in extra time. Anelka cleverly allowed his trailing leg to make contact with Given – what any striker does nowadays – but Hansson, this time with a better view, didn’t budge.
No, if you want to blame someone, that’s easy – go for FIFA.
What more does FIFA need to start using video replay? They’re the real joke.
Use a challenge system similar to tennis for contentious calls. Each team gets one unsuccessful challenge per half. So it might add a few more seconds, or minutes to the game. If the call is right, that’s the bottom line. Irish fans certainly wouldn’t argue.