Archive for November, 2009

20
Nov
09

Irish Eyes are (Not) Smiling

Le Sulk Celebrates!

The big news this week in the tribal world of football is France’s play-off win over Ireland to qualify for next summer’s FIFA World Cup Finals to be held in South Africa.  This would not cause many ripples outside the tempestuous teapots of Ireland and France, where entry into the WC Finals is almost life or death.  National pride is on the line for each country’s fans, while the players have to wait four years for the chance to represent their country on the biggest stage in world sports.

For a footballing nation not to qualify for the World Cup is like celebrating Christmas without snow, you know it’s doable (and still meaningful) but it just doesn’t feel right.

Of course, this analogy dovetails well with Thailand.  Passionate (some would say stark raving mad) as we are about the sport, Southeast Asia’s football powerhouse has never made it to a World Cup final.¹  It also never snows here, so if either freak occurrence were to happen, it would probably be a good sign that Armageddon is upon us.  Let’s hope John Cusack is around to save us all.

The Irish have qualified for three Finals in their history, while the French have made 12 Final appearances (lifting the trophy in 1998).   Each country would feel devastated not to make it to South Africa, which is just about the only thing they have in common (except hating the English, of course).  And now they were meeting in a play-off² to determine who earns one of the final UEFA slots to South Africa 2010.

Last week, France won the first leg of the playoff in Ireland 1-0, which meant Ireland needed to win 2-0 (or 2-1 as away goals count more) in the return leg in France to clinch a World Cup berth.  If Ireland won 1-0 at the end of regulation, then they would settle the match through penalty kicks, which is basically a crap shoot that depends more on luck than skill (except in the case of ze Germans, who are lethal when it comes to penalty kicks).

The second leg played in France started brightly for Ireland, as they scored the first goal and were leading 1-0 at the end of 90 minutes.  Since on aggregate they were now tied 1-1, they had to play extra time.

Then France stole the game–and a ticket to the World Cup–with a clear handball by Barcelona striker Thierry Henry.

Watch it here:

(Not sure how long this link will last, as SportFive who owns the rights to this broadcast is taking shit down faster than Scientologists who see references to intergalactic lord Xenu.)

The Irish are understandably furious that Frenchie has stolen its World Cup Lucky Charms.  In subsequent interviews, Henry sheepishly admits that it was a handball, though somewhat disingenuously implies that it was an accident (you can see in the video the first touch may have been, but the second was deliberate).  And to pour salt on Irish wounds, France was clearly offside when the free kick was taken, which should have negated the goal before it happened.

The press are having a field day, referring to the Hand of God.  This is a reference to Argentinian legend Diego Maradona, whose infamous handball helped sink England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals.

Volleyball Legend, Diego Maradona

References to Thierry Henry and “Le Main de Dieu, Part Deux” reminds us of one Robbie Fowler³, the mercurial goalscorer whose nickname while playing for Liverpool was simply “God.”  As an example of fair-play, Fowler once pleaded with a referee to waive a penalty that was given in error.  When the referee refused to do so, the fair-minded striker took the spot kick himself and gently rolled it straight to the bemused goalkeeper.

Henry’s defense, while admitting it was a handball, is that the onus is on the referee to spot that sort of thing.  Now Ireland is appealing to FIFA for a replay, to which the governing body has replied “Fat chance, go drown yourselves in single malt, you croiying potato-eaters.”

Despite incidents like this happening all the time within national leagues and international play, FIFA and UEFA are staunchly against the use of video replay, defending their stance with the flimsiest of excuses.  As athletes get faster and stronger and use lighter, more advanced equipment, and with the huge amount of money at stake, the sport continues to rely on just four fallible human referees.

So incidents like this will continue to happen in the future.  One team will benefit, the other will cry foul.  Life goes on.  With luck playing such a major role, perhaps the penalty shootout is a fitting way to decide a stalemate.

Nein?

Ja!

***

As an aside, a significant component of fair play is winning and losing with grace and humility.  To have bested your opponent on the field does not require rubbing it in the fallen warrior’s face.  Being an unmannerly winner can be just as bad as being a sore loser.  That being said, allow me to present Exhibit X:

Now it is one thing to waste lawmaker’s time and taxpayer’s money dressed in a garish graduation robe, clumsily reading a speech that you obviously didn’t write, but it is quite another to brazenly brag about the accomplishments of a team when you had absolutely no role in its success or failure.

And yes, I graduated from the same fine edjumacational institution as this lady.  Go Gators!

 

 

¹I love hearing the excuse “our players are too short.”  You don’t see Japan, a country not known for fielding beanpoles like the Netherlands, making that excuse as they have made it twice.  The real reason?  Thai athletes lack collective discipline.  More on that another time…

²Since each region can only send a set number of national teams to the Finals in South Africa, they have qualification tournaments.  The European (UEFA) region, sends 13 national teams, of which nine automatically qualify for winning their groups, then eight of the teams finished second in their qualifying groups play four playoff games to determine the last four UEFA entries into the 2010 World Cup Finals.  Confused?  Try not to think about why Europe is allowed 13 teams in the World Cup finals compared to Africa (5) and Asia (4).

³ This is the same Robbie Fowler who celebrated a goal against Everton by pretending to snort a giant line of cocaine.  And then again, Maradona once tested positive for cocaine.  Ah, the circle of life!