Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Agony of the Irish

On Wednesday, the qualification matches for the 2010 World Cup were completed, settling the matter of which 32 national soccer teams will be heading to South Africa. The big story was the tragedy of Irish. Deadlocked at the end of their two-legged play-off match with mighty France, the match was in extra-time when it all came crashing down. France scored the winner when Thierry Henry’s blatant handball was missed by the referee. (The linesman also missed the two French players who were offside on the play.) The Irish are justifiably outraged.

If the Irish suffer from a persecution complex, it is more than understandable in light of their history, including their recent history in the world of soccer. Because the governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA (whose President is former French star, Michel Platini) changed the play-off rules midstream, the deck seemed stacked against Ireland from the start. But they kept it close and the inspiration of their coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, and the pluck of their players, notably Damien Duff, Keith Andrews, Robbie Keane & Liam Lawrence instilled the Irish fans with the deadliest of conditions – hope.

As a result of this infamous handball, we’ll probably see the introduction of video replay in International soccer but that won’t lessen the pain for the Irish. Everyone comes off looking terrible. It was shame for the sport and for the French team, whose presence in South Africa will now be widely regarded as illegitimate. And even Thierry Henry, one of the best and most graceful players of his generation, will be regarded as a cheat in much of the English-speaking world. It hardly matters that any player would have instinctively done what Henry did. Henry admitted to the handball and has even gone on record as saying that the game should be replayed (admittedly, he said this after FIFA ruled against this option). His legacy should survive this incident, but good luck to him if he ever tries to order a pint of Guinness.

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