La main de Dieu, for a New Generation

>> Thursday, November 19, 2009

France 1 (1) - 1 (0) Ireland. AET.

France qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

I recall watching the 1986 World Cup on TV, which was a rarity at the time from the United States. I vaguely recall watching the Argentina v England quarter final match as well. However, not being an England fan, and only an 18 year old American at that, the infamous Hand of God goal by Maradona didn't resonate at the time as it did on the island where I now reside. Living six + years here, and being a soccer fan, I quickly learned just how fantastically lame that was. In my mind, the so-called "goal of the century" that Maradona scored a few minutes later didn't absolve him of that central sin. For all of his greatness as a player, his reputation is also blighted for being a cheat.

Thierry Henry's glorious career, likewise, took an unrecoverable turn last night:

(UPDATE: I originally included a clip from youtube, but Sportsfive, who own the rights to the broadcast from the match, have been busy scouring the intertubes for copyright infringements. Or something like that. Did I mention that they are French? Anyway, check out the comments for an active clip).

Granted, it's not a World Cup quarter final, but it was the final few minutes of qualification, and the match looked to be heading ineluctably towards penalties. It also was not the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1999, either.

I was in the pub for this match (technically only the second half). While Henry claims that he did not do it on purpose, I strongly disagree. The first hand ball was incidental -- still a foul, but not purposeful. The second hand ball he appears to direct the ball with intent. Before the replays, we knew something was up: virtually every Republic player had their hands raised, and Shay Given storms out to first the referee, then the linesman, to protest. The replays made the foul plain.

It's difficult to blame the referee for this; in the main he had a good match. The Anelka dive may have led to a penalty against Given, but that was a judgment call; the hand ball was not. The linesman should have spotted it, and either didn't, or didn't believe his eyes. But then he also failed to spot the clear offsides at the same time.

I'm not buying into any of the conspiracy theories -- while FIFA and UEFA have a clear preference for large nations to qualify, they sorted this out in the playoff draw. If there was a conspiracy involving the ref, he would have called that penalty against Given, not waited for a few minutes remaining in stoppage time to ignore a hand ball.

As my English club has always been Arsenal, even before the Wenger years, I should be inclined to give Henry the benefit of the doubt and wax eloquent about how any player would have done the same thing.

But I'm not. That hand ball was intentional, and should be called what it is: cheating. And Henry's legacy will forever be tied to this moment, which is a shame.

UPDATE: The Irish Justice Minister is calling for a replay. I heard rumblings about this on both BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live last night and this morning, which is why I cited the Sheffield United - Arsenal FA Cup Fifth Round tie in the above.

It's not going to happen. How would it? Any such match has to happen soon, but the next international window is months away, so the players would have to be coaxed from their clubs. While FIFA and UEFA can pry players from their clubs during international breaks, to the best of my knowledge they have no leverage outside of international windows. The current French squad play for such clubs as Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United, Lyon . . . when these clubs say no, and they would within a second of receiving the request, the French players have no incentive to challenge the club position: they've already been handed their trip to South Africa (sorry for the dreadful pun, but about half the newspaper headlines today make the obvious easy play).


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