Friday, November 20, 2009

Robbie Keane would have done the same

More than enough has been written about the unfortunate turn-of-events when France advanced to the 2010 World Cup at Ireland's behest.

Though Thierry Henry is the culprit, he should not become a villain, nor have his reputation tarnished by what will surely become the omnipresent fine print in his character bio forever.

First, the ball hit his hand. Then he knowingly moved hand to ball, effectively trapping prior to crossing. This reaction is the same most other players would have had in extra-time for a crucial World Cup qualifier.

As a player, you do it instinctively. It's not conscious. But in the milliseconds after the act, you assume to be caught, penalized, and possibly booked.

Unfortunately for the Irish, and fortunately for the French, he wasn't.

But his blink decision to handle the ball is the same any other player would have, whether they're honest English or deceitful French. There is no one player of the top 30 in the world that haven't purposefully handled a ball, or fallen over easily. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

Henry is certainly culpable, and he was in no way honest. But language like "disgraceful" and "specialist cheat" are hyperbolic at best.

The Frenchman's post-mortem comments probably could have been nobler. Though he stated that he handled the ball, he didn't absolve himself of guilt. Nor was he proving skeptics correct; he obviously handled it, purposefully, and twice, and could not have hid that fact. Owning up was par for the course.

Only after FIFA rejected the FAI's request for a replay did Henry pipe up with, "Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control.'' Saying something like that before FIFA's decision would have showed some more gall and class.

But, regardless of those particulars, the unfortunate result is that Ireland misses out on the World Cup. Also, all the money commensurate, while Henry suffers lasting ignominy for what would have otherwise been a brilliant career.

Who's to blame, then? Irishman Roy Keane grinds his ax such: "I'd focus on why they didn't clear (the free-kick). How can you let the ball bounce in your six-yard box? How can you let Thierry Henry get goal-side of you? If the ball goes into the six-yard box, where the hell is my goalkeeper?"

But accountability is passe. Should the match officials be blamed? Is FIFA's structure at fault? Does the game need television replay?

It'd be fruitless to blame the match officials. The mass of players prohibited the referee from seeing the infringement. Even if he had been closer, and had a clear view of Henry, he'd have only seen the French striker's back.

However, there is certainly cause for having four line judges at a match of this caliber, when there are millions of dollars at stake, as well as the pride of a nation. A third and fourth line judge would cover more viewing angles on the field.

But television replay in the game would detract from the beauty of football, which is found in its subjectivity and continuity of play. American sports suffer from constant stoppages and TV time outs, which detracts casual fans not bred in the sport.

It's too bad to have to say this, but it all comes down to luck, or a lack of it. Apparently even the luck of the Irish has no bias, just like the luck of everyone else. All sides find themselves at the receiving end, both from the good and bad variety, at varying times and to varying degrees.

It all averages out, more or less, and may that never change.

Do the Irish deserve to be at the World Cup? No. They lost to France. Paul McShane should have cleared that ball instead of letting it bounce to Henry.

Does Henry deserve to be forever remembered a cheat and a liar? No. He did what many other players do and have done since the game was invented, which is all we ask of them: use trained instincts to try and win football matches.

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