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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

France v Republic of Ireland: Cheating to Prosper

Having watched tonight's game, the Irish were very, very hard done by, by one of the world's respected footballers. If you are reading this and don't know what happened, this was the 2nd leg of a World Cup 2010 qualifier between these two nations, and France were leading 1-0 on aggregate from the 1st leg.

With Robbie Keane of the Republic of Ireland scoring in the first half, that levelled the game at 1-1, both scoring an away goal. So extra-time of 30mins kicked in after the original 90mins, and shortly before the first half of extra time had occurred, France had a free-kick within the Irish half. The ball was chipped over, the Irish failed to defend it, failed to clear it, it bounced to France's Thierry Henry, and as the ball came to make contact the 1st time with his forearm, Henry moved his palm to control the ball and square it for William Gallas to head in.

Now, Henry ran off with a celebrating grimace as the France players celebrated over to Gallas, he clearly felt very relieved and showed no sign of any regret for what he had done. Ireland's goal-keeper, Shay Given, immediately remonstrated to the officials about the handball to no avail. The goal stood. This coming some time after France's Nicolas Anelka feigned contact in the box to try to gain a penalty, only for the referee to give a goal-kick.

Superb refereeing to deny Anelka a penalty, should have booked him. But Henry, considered one of the most respected, respectable players in the game, at the end, sat alongside Ireland's defender Richard Dunne on the pitch as if to console Dunne! The gall of it.

I don't condone cheating. Some players, if not most, are skilled enough, fit enough, wise enough, shrewd enough, to gain that advantage without resorting to any influence outside the rules of the game. Henry was one of those players, and now isn't. Some still say the English have still not gotten over the 'Hand of God' by Diego Maradona in 1986. It shouldn't be called that but instead the 'Hand That Robbed'. It gained an advantage that should never, ever, have stood but inexplicably it did and the damage was done thereafter. England was so close to matching Argentina but for that moment.

Maybe some will say Ireland would have gone out on penalties, or they would have gone to South Africa and become whipping boys. Well, when you consider the likes of Henry, Anelka, Sidney Govou, Karim Benzema (who remained on the bench throughout), Patrice Evra, and the Irish have modest players who gave heart and valour in France's own ground.....the French were very, very fortunate. Very fortunate, indeed.

And a stay of execution has happened for Raymond Domenech. Having kept Benzema on the bench, with France not scoring up until nearly 105mins, this dreadful cheating moment has earned him a last-gasp reprieve. Do the French deserve to go further into the tournament? No. While they did well enough to earn a place in the final, they don't look the same side to repeat that again this time round.

But if there was going to be any poetic justice, they would repeat their feat in 2002. Because no way should Henry be captain and hold that magnificent trophy aloft. Does not deserve to even touch it as a player any more.



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