Ireland’s final hopes to participate in the 2010 FIFA World Cup were dashed when Gallas scored a goal in extra time with an assist from Thierry Henry. It is widely acknowledged that the Irish team played well and perhaps deserved to go to the World Cup, but the referee called the goal for the French side. This has proved to be incredibly controversial, because Henry’s hand touched the ball just before his goal. Henry admitted as much after the match.
Damien Duff wept in the changing rooms while the Irish people wept in houses and bars across the land. Interviews were conducted on radio and television with every pundit and family member the media could lay their hands on. The country rang with the sound of outraged voices about robbery, rematch and revenge. Many Irish people have taken the handball as a personal slight and for the first time, some Irish people are sympathising with the British over their exit from the 1986 FIFA World Cup because of Maradona’s Hand of God.
Ireland was left feeling robbed and embittered. Henry has been cast as the ultimate cheater, responsible for Ireland’s economic collapse, and destroyer of the noble sport of football. No one like to mention the handballs by Irish players on the same field or that cheating is only an issue when noticed by the referee. The referee did not see Henry’s hand touch the ball and therefore it did not happen. If there was to be a rematch after every time a player cheated, international tournaments would never move beyond the first match.
Calls for a rematch have echoed throughout the land and politicians of every stripe have ignored the upcoming budget slaughter in favour of speaking out about a game of football. Indeed, the Taoiseach (prime minister), the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism have made public statements about the injustice of the French goal and the desire for a rematch. The Taoiseach spoke to President Sarkozy on the matter, but the French president refused to use political pressure to influence the French football association. Irish political leaders were not as circumspect.
Upon hearing that they would be no rematch, the Football Association of Ireland issued the following statement:
“We regret that despite our best efforts for a replay, which would have restored the integrity of the game in front of a world-wide audience, our calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears at the French Football Federation. Without doubt, the credibility of fair-play has been damaged by this incident in front of a world-wide audience. Despite our deep disappointment, we thank our players, the wonderful Irish fans and the Irish public at large for their support as well as the solidarity of the French people. We will continue to call on FIFA to take action to ensure that such damaging examples of cheating are not allowed to recur.”
This shows a sore loser attitude and does nothing to enhance the image of Ireland abroad and has exposed, in the minds of some, the begrudgery that exists in modern Ireland.
Former Captain of the International Team, Roy Keane, has been a sobering voice for those of us who feel that all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over a football game is a bit much. Keane left the Irish football team during the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Saipan because of the treatment of the Irish players by manager Mick McCarthy and the FAI. Keane has now pointed out that letting the ball bounce in the six yard box was unacceptable, and that the players had to face up to their responsibility. The France-Ireland game was a last effort to go to South Africa and it did not work. End of story. Naturally, Keane has been vilified for his position.
Since FIFA has refused to allow a rematch, perhaps the frenzy will now calm down somewhat. The gutter press is still stringing the story along and in the past few days, when half of Ireland is under water, there still are protests at the French embassy. All the hate for the bankers, property developers and politicians is focussed on Henry and France. It is a distraction from the recession, but with the public sector strike and the budget looming, the emotions of the football fans will probably refocus on the original target of their ire.