Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I'm Shedding No Tears for the Irish

For those of you who don't follow World Cup qualifying, the big story in the rest of the world for the past two days has been Thierry Henry controlling a ball with his hand before crossing for France's winning goal against Ireland, sending the French to South Africa and eliminating Ireland. I'm not at all upset about this turn of events. As usual, my reasons have numbers

1. France was denied a legitimate penalty before the goal:

The penalty is at 4:50. Ireland can retroactively complain all they want about the lack of replay in football, but if there were replay, then perhaps someone would have noticed Shay Given grabbing Nicolas Anelka's ankle as he flew by. Yes, Anelka was a little theatrical about it, but there was clear contact and that's a penalty. I wouldn't be shocked if the ref viewed the Henry handball as a makeup call, not that any of the media outrage will reflect that dynamic. Alternatively, the two calls can be explained by the fact that it's always easier for a ref to not call something than it is to blow the whistle. Either explanation is more likely than that there was some sort of conspiracy to send France to the World Cup. If there were a conspiracy, then France would have had a penalty.

2. I guess it's easier for the Irish to point the finger at someone outside the team as opposed to Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, both of whom missed gilt-edged chances to win the game in regulation. Ireland were only in position to get "screwed" because they wasted opportunities.

3. Ireland didn't lose the game because of the goal. They lost a 50-50 shot in penalties because of the goal. By the time the British media have run this into the ground, it's going to occupy the same pantheon as the Hand of G-d (another refereeing blunder that did not decide a game). Funny how a World Cup Final decided by a goal that didn't cross the line isn't mentioned in the same breath:

4. In the realm of the unclean hands defense, as Roy Keane has pointed out, Ireland benefited during the group stage from a penalty decision that went beyond the realm of inexplicable. Read the Guardian's description of events as Ireland trailed 1-0 with 18 minutes remaining in Georgia:


72 mins: This is quite fun: the Georgians have no idea why a penalty has been awarded and nor does anyone else. Keane tried to control a long ball and failed and it was cleared and, um, the ref pointed to the spot! A startling decision. As I said in the preamble, it looks like luck is on our side in this campaign.

GOAL! Ireland 1-1 Georgia (Keane, pen, 73')

76 mins: Bafflement and outrage has unbalanced the Georgians now, and Ireland could yet nick a winner. Their tempo remains high, their ambition positive and even the crowd are making some noise now. Meanwhile, Georgia make a change, withdrawing Siradze and introducing someone who's name I didn't catch and who I hope will not be significant.

GOAL! Ireland 2-1 Georgia (Keane 78') Keane sends a diving header into the net from a corner! Actually, the replay indicates that, in keeping with the night's events so far, it flukily came off his shoulder. Are you watching Rafa!? "Another advantage to having Trappatoni as manager is that like many Italian managers he has a knack for getting dodgy decisions in his favour," chuckles George Templeton.

Zaza deserved better.

5. I've got no love for France, especially a France coached by an absolute moron. (I wouldn't trust Raymond Domenech or Diego Maradona to assemble a four-piece puzzle, and yet they are in charge of two of the five most talented teams in the world.) However, I prefer France in the World Cup to Ireland. Here is Ireland's history at the World Cup:

1990 - three draws in the group stage, a 0-0 win in penalties in the round of 16, and a 1-0 loss in the quarterfinals. Five games, two goals scored. They played Romania instead of West Germany in the round of 16 because of a drawing of lots. (Karma?) They never led a match.

1994 - 1-1-1 in the group stage and a 2-0 loss in the round of 16. Four games, two goals scored. They never led other than after their hit-and-hope goal against Italy.

2002 - 1-1-1 in the group stage and a 1-1 loss in penalties in the round of 16. Excluding a 3-0 win over a shambolic Saudi Arabia team, they played three matches and scored three goals, but they never led in any of those matches.

So what's the pattern? The Irish play boring, defensive games and only make a serious effort to score when their backs are against the wall. Their decision to hire Giovanni Trapattoni makes perfect sense with that context, as does the fact that they made it into the playoff on the strength of four wins over the minnows in their group and then six (six!) draws. Ireland did show themselves to be capable of playing good stuff when they went to the Stade de France down 1-0, but that just makes me dislike them more. They're capable of coming out of a negative shell, but they only do so when their backs are against the wall. Otherwise, they're content to be parasites, relying on the opponent to take all the risks. The Irish football team will be as missed in South Africa as polio. (Standard disclaimer: Irish fans are outstanding. They deserve better.)

And for the record, I'm not taking this position to defend Henry because he's a Barca player. He's not one of my faves. That said, his handball was similar to a tug of a jersey by a defender or a keeper coming off of his line before a penalty kick is struck, but we don't label defenders or keepers as cheats for preventing goals outside of the rules. Players handle the ball all the time, but Henry is being vilified because he followed his handball with an accurate cross. In terms of judging a player based on his intent, that's awfully unfair.


dimitbeba said...

FIFA should give Ireland a re-match.

Jerry Hinnen said...

No. 2 is the big one. Reminds me of the Italian whining after their 2002 WC loss to Korea, when Vieri should have easily put the game away and didn't.

I can't agree with wanting France in the Cup over the Irish, though. There's the Irish fans, the fact that France hardly has a record of playing exciting football over their last two Cup appearances (they were a big reason why the knockout stages of '06 were such a drag), and most importantly, no France would have opened up a position on the "seed" line of the draw which FIFA in their infinite wisdom might have awarded to the U.S. (Not that that would be fair, but still.) And in any case, Ireland would have been a much more palatable match for the U.S. than the French. I really wish the Irish could have finished them off.

atlbossplaya said...

I'm not mad at either team.
As you stated Bravesandbirds, Ireland had their opportunities. I'm one of the newer fans of soccer(football) here in America, but I've seen enough match play to understand that when a team 'deserves' to win it's because they've convincingly dominated their opponents to win the match. I've been following the Ligue 1 team in Lyon, France who have been dominating their competition for years. Occasionally I catch a Chelsea Premier League match. If the Irish were more dominating as these two teams are..albeit they basically all-star teams, then the Irish would probably NOT need for tears to be shed for them. Vive La France!

Jesse said...

I'm in no way in favor of a rematch or a retroactive call or anything of that measure. The match was played, each team had opportunities to put it away, and this is how the Lincoln Logs have fallen. I personally would rather see France just because I believe the overall talent level is higher and would rather see the stars play versus a team that offers nothing to draw me into the game.

However, I am still of the mind that there is a place for either an additional official or for some form of replay system. No. 1 just presents another case where either case would be beneficial especially in a match of this importance. I've alway been a fan of getting the call right over preserving some idea of tradition, but I'm still unsure how far I would advocate implementing either.

Currently, I just think that it's asking a lot for one guy to constantly try to make the right call while running behind the action with any number of players between the official and the ball. Having another official or a camera system to help out during key matches seems like it would go a long way towards making sure the right call is made.


Michael said...

Jesse, I agree 100%. Football needs a second ref, at a minimum.

Klinsi said...

If "a little theatrical" is considered "unsporting behavior" by the ref, i.e., a dive, then there was no legitimate penalty call, irrespective of the contact. The correct decision should then have been a foul against Given, yellow card to Anelka and a drop ball as a result of concurrent fouls/misconduct.

Unless, of course, you consider the contact "denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity", which seems unlikely given the extreme angle, speed at which the ball was running towards the end line and the presence of 2 defenders between the ball and the goal mouth. Such a foul would have merited both a penalty kick and a straight red for Given.

Having refereed jr. high/HS and college games, I can say from experience that a 2nd on-field ref would be a great benefit to the sport.

deejay said...

Anelka penalty.. lol! He should have been booked. Cheating must be a French pastime. Yes Ireland had the more clear cut chances and therefore deserved to go through.

Due to its importance, the match by rights should be replayed but it won't be.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Given grabbed his foot because he knew he was beat , Anelka was on his way to goal . Yet Shay didnt get up and use fair play and good sportsmanship and tell the ref he grabbed him . You lost get over it .

Larry said...

Jerry Hinnen - Ireland wasn't so much in a position to "finish off" France as they were to go into a penalty shootout. Don't forget that.

Stephen said...

You could also add these arguments to your list:

- France got screwed by a bad penalty decision vs Serbia in the group stages. If that doesn't happen, France isn't even in a playoff.

- Anyone who watched the first leg saw Les Bleus throw a party around the Irish box for about 60 of the 90 minutes and managed only one goal. The first leg also featured some Irish misses.

It's always easier to blame one particular person, outside your team, for your problems and ignore everything else.

I would also add to the list: Since the World Cup is where screw-jobs are the only guarantee, I'm glad the Irish aren't going to the World Cup because this incident shows how poorly they'd react.

I keep thinking about John Terry going to the Barca locker room after their semi and congratulating Barca. Hey Robbie Keane, when John Terry makes you look like a classless toddler, it's time for some soul-searching.

Jesse said...

In more recent news...

Really FIFA? You are thinking of punishing Henry because your officials missed the call? Classy.