The Great Debate: Should FIFA Allow Ireland vs France To Be Replayed?
Controversy, cheating, and conspiracy.
These have been the three buzzwords this week in football's latest soap opera as Thierry Henry's "Hand of Frog" put France through to the World Cup in South Africa at the expense of Ireland.
Twenty-three years after Diego Maradona made enemies with every person in England with his infamous "Hand of God", Henry seems to have done the same with the Irish.
With the ball bouncing out of play, Henry clearly used his hand to claw it back in, before poking it across the goal to William Gallas, who headed in from a yard out.
Much to anger and astonishment of the Irish, however, the referee didn't blow for a handball, instead awarding the goal to the French.
Understandably, everyone involved not wearing a blue shirt was incensed, and the fallout has made the back pages of newspapers all over the world.
The most recent news is that FIFA, football's governing body, has rejected Ireland's appeal for a replay of the match.
But should they have let another match take place?
First, I will look at the argument from the side of the Irish.
Not only did Gallas' goal rob Ireland of a place in the World Cup for the first time since 2002, but it also robbed them of history and an awful lot of money.
The price of a World Cup campaign to the economy has been quoted as being as high as £1-2 billion, money Ireland will now have to go without. Undoubtedly, Henry's handball is the most expensive in history.
To go out in such circumstances is incredibly galling, particularly considering they had put in so much effort just to get to that stage.
But should the size of the implications of the result have any impact on FIFA's decision? No, I don't think they should.
A game of football is a game of football, and controversial things happen all the time. FIFA can't sanction a replay because then it'd be one rule for matches with a lot at stake and another for the "less important" matches.
I remember having a similar feeling at the end of the Tottenham vs Manchester United game a few years ago. In that match, you will remember, Pedro Mendes had a shot from the halfway line which clearly crossed the line after Roy Carroll's mistake.
The referee and linesman, however, insisted that it hadn't, and Spurs were robbed of a goal.
I distinctly remember feeling a massive sense of injustice for Tottenham at the end of that game, and I strongly believed that it should have been replayed. The match was much less important than Ireland and France's World Cup qualifier, but FIFA has to treat them both the same.
The laws of the game are the laws of the game, be it at Sunday league level, Premier League level or international level.
Did England get a replay against Argentina for Maradona's handball? No. Unless FIFA want to set a new precedent that they will follow thereafter, they have to abide by their rules.
Under the circumstances, then, the match couldn't have been replayed, and FIFA made the only reasonable decision. I do, however, think that a change of rules should be thought about.
A post-match panel of officials could look at any controversial decisions and decide what action should be taken. Whether this action could be extended as far as a replay in extreme circumstances is up for debate.
What it could include, though, is a citing system similar to that in rugby, where a player can be penalised after the match for incidents the referee has missed or misjudged the seriousness of.
Would this be applicable to Thierry Henry though?
Well, to answer that it must be established whether he handled the ball on purpose.
Henry has since admitted the ball hit his hand, although he insists it was accidental, and has apologised and even said a rematch would be the fairest option.
But replays suggest he did handle the ball on purpose.
When it first strikes his arm, it looks like a natural reflex action, but then he seems to scoop the ball back into play with his hand.
He knew he was cheating at the time, but I don't think he was thinking of the consequences of his actions or the major ramifications they would have.
He instinctively tried to keep the ball in play and create a chance for his team. Yes, this is technically cheating, but it is no worse than diving or any other form of bending the rules for your own gain.
Henry is unfortunate that his actions have been magnified due to the importance of the game, and I don't think he would have been cited had the system been in play.
Should he have owned up? In a perfect world, yes, but he can't be expected to. Incidents like Paolo Di Canio catching the ball because the opposition goalkeeper was injured are heart-warming moments, but they are most certainly the exception to the rule.
So is Henry a cheat? I suppose that, by the letter of the law, he did cheat, but I would have done the same and so, I'm sure, would most of the Irish bemoaning the hand of Henry.
The match, it must be remembered, was as important to France as it was to Ireland. If you had a chance to slightly bend the rules if it meant going to the World Cup finals, would you do it? I know I would.
On that point, would Ireland be so accepting of a replay if it was Robbie Keane who handled and they who had progressed?
The incident also opened up the seemingly endless video technology debate, which I will be discussing in a future article.
It also caused several members of the Ireland set-up to question whether FIFA favour the bigger, more glamorous nations, an argument spurred on by the seeding of the qualifying teams.
This ensured the likes of Portugal and France wouldn't meet each other, instead getting potentially easier ties.
Viewers in neutral countries would rather see Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry than Richard Dunne and Damien Duff, that is a fact, but favouritism cannot be spawned from greed and potential money-making.
Whether or not FIFA planned, or rather expected the bigger teams to go through will be cause for argument until the World Cup kicks-off, but for now, the Irish just have to lick their wounds and get on with it.
I sympathise with them, I really do. I can imagine the whole country is printing off pictures of Henry to stick on their dartboards, and I would be doing the same if England were in their position, but I don't blame Henry for doing what he did and I certainly don't blame FIFA for not allowing a replay.
In fact, the only people that can be held responsible are the officials. Ireland were just unlucky that they were stuck with a referee and linesman who, like Robbie Keane and co., won't be making the trip to South Africa.
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