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