“They’re all probably clapping hands, [Michel] Platini sitting up there on the phone to Sepp Blatter, probably texting each other, delighted with the result.”—Robbie Keane, Ireland Captain and yesterday's only goalscorer (only one proper goal was scored last night historians will undoubtedly say).
I haven't been moved to write anything on Bleacher for a long, long time. In fact I didn't think I'd ever use the site again but yesterday's "travesty" leaves too much to be desired in my eyes.
For roughly 110 minutes I fell in love with football again—Ireland hadn't played like they did last night since I started watching football in the first place! (WC 2002—memories of Spain and Germany came flooding back last night)
But the sheer tenacity of previous—to my mind—"ugly ducklings" like Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews and now joint record cap holder Kilbane won me over, even if I had been largely dubious about their achievements and merit as footballers beforehand.
To such an extent in fact, that I actually groaned when Whelan had to come off for Darren "Permanent United Reserve Team Fixture" Gibson in the second half. Its been a seachange in attitude from me and I suspect many other Irish fans towards such untalented yet endearing workhorses.
As for the usual two totem poles of Irish football suffice to say Duff was magical while Keane was just inspirational. Last night he became the captain I never knew he could be. The work rate of the two was outstanding and at times even the odd step over and flick were introduced to remind not only the French but yes, even ourselves, that these two still had "it".
Undoubtedly the French were on the ropes; Domenech, no stranger to widespread questioning of his role with the national team, seemed prepared for the worst (quick question to all Frenchies out there—would they even have sacked him if they had lost?), the marketing men held their collective breath for the worst—a tournament with no Henry, Benzema, Gourcuff et al...but most importantly Platini and Blatter were getting uncomfortable in their seats.
Their plan was going awry.
Having rejigged the seedings to make sure Ireland wouldn’t have the audacity to appear in the World Cup again and stink the place up (to their minds anyway), it was high time a Byron Moreno/South Korea job was pulled off should Plan B not reach its insidious conclusion.
For those of you who don’t know who Byron Moreno is let me refer you to South Korea v Italy at the 2002 World Cup. The match became infamous among Italians as a clear case of "shenanigans." And who was on the Italy bench at the time?—Giovanni Trappatoni. Yes, he more than anyone should know how FIFA politicking works, so no surprise then he mentioned Moreno’s name in the postmatch interview.
But coming back to the game last night it became clear something palpable was in the air. Commentator Jim Beglin said as much by declaring halfway through an amazing Irish performance that “there’s something big on tonight, and the players out there are beginning to feel it.”
As I’ve said before I was falling in love with football again, but this however was largely after falling out of love with it for roughly the past few months.
Corruption has become endemic: Serie A, La Liga, The Premiership, even the MLS have seen non-existent penalties, soft red cards and indeed, extra-extra time given in favour of the big boys (and David Beckham). Matches are played out in the financial markets or the boardroom more than the pitch nowadays, so what’s the point?
But even with all this in mind, Ireland-France in a World Cup playoff sounded a treat. ——And it was—again I add, for roughly 110 minutes.
Sure the deflected goal in the first leg was unlucky. Sure the French slaughtered us possession-wise in Croke Park and sure the bookies had us down for a fairly predicatble defeat over the 2 legs but we stuck in there with a bunch of players who hardly even feature for Stoke, Hull or Middlesborough among other unfashionable teams.
And that was heartening. Something against the odds was happening last night in Paris and FIFA simply didn't see it coming.
But it is when the ugly system full of the usual corporate cast of lawyers, marketing men and bent politicians become involved that the beautiful game becomes a whore for all to see.
Its no coincidence a French team full of immediately marketable Africans will be going to South Africa next year. Interest in the tournament there demands it and among other things, nominally "more talented players" and recognisable names.
Nike, Adidas, McDonalds won’t be savouring Glenn Whelan running around a pitch at 50 degrees, sweating like a pig. As Henry in one of his commercials would say: “The best a man can get.” That won’t be Glenn Whelan for Mr. Marketer.
As for the blatant handball it not only contravenes "fair play", it contravenes 'common sense'.
Even in a playground of schoolchildren a handball will be ruled out amongst players. No referee needed. So how two supposedly qualified and supposedly experienced officials fail to see two handballs, one after the other is mind boggling.
And this doesn't even take into account 2 French players were offside as the ball was floated in from the free kick.
It is simply a crying shame when justice is foregone even when the player himself admits he handled the ball.
So this leads me to the only conclusion possible with all the facts, motives, and events in mind. FIFA got the result FIFA wanted.
Portugal and France will be heading to the World Cup with inept managers, free to bestow upon us heartless, passionless, mind-numbing football once more (2006 Portugal v France was just awful), and the real football teams that really espouse the values of the game FIFA pays lip service to; The Irelands, the Bosnias, the naturally ungifted, the naturally non-glamorous will be scorned.
Like the fat quiet girl with the good heart done over by the bimbo blonde with the implants. The notion of love has had the piss taken out of it.
And so has my love for the game.