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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Ireland's rescue bid laughed off... so ban Thierry. It's the only answer

TOMORROW justice may finally catch up with Thierry Henry. Sepp Blatter will address an emergency meeting of the FIFA committee in Cape Town, just two days before the World Cup draw, and ask they what sanction should be handed to France's record scorer after his deliberate handball enabled them to qualify for South Africa next year at the expense of the Republic of Ireland.
Sadly, Blatter will not offer a replay or a 33rd place in the finals to the aggrieved Irish. As I said on Sky News with Eamonn Holmes this morning, meaningful justice will never be done. Blatter laughed when he talked of Ireland's plea for an extra place, which left assistant boss Liam Brady fuming over the treatment of his unfashionable footballing nation. And despite that 486,000-strong petition for a replay on Facebook - which I also talked about on television this morning - all that is likely to happen is that FIFA will agree to two extra officials behind either goal in an attempt to improve "match control".
If we accept France are now unavoidably through - and I hope they will be roundly booed, Kevin Pietersen style, whenever the play in South Africa - then Henry must be punished.
After the match he admitted to deliberate handball, which is a red card offence. Now FIFA must review the incident on video and punish him like any other cheat who is caught in the act. Henry, France's record scorer with 51 goals, must miss at least the first two matches of the World Cup next year.
Former Liverpool manager Gerrard Houllier launched an impassioned defence of Henry this morning, probably hoping to ease concerns before tomorrow's FIFA gathering in Cape Town.
The 62-year-old, now technical director at the French football federation, said: "A lot of the former players in France have condemned what Thierry has done but, at the same time, they said they would have done the same. He didn't cross the ball with his hand. It's the referee's error. I'm not saying he did something right but he did something that sometimes, when you play football, you do to help you but you expect the referee to punish you.
"Thierry is too honest a person to have done this immorally. It was not premeditated. I don't think he'll be punished and even if the goal had not been allowed, they would not have qualified. It would have gone to penalties."
I used to have a certain respect for Houllier, who suffered a life-threatening aortic condition while he was in charge at Anfield. Those mealie-mouthed words do him no credit.
Ban Henry. If there's to be no replay, it's the least FIFA can do.

Labels: , gerard houllier, , ,

Monday, 30 November 2009

Ireland plead for a 33rd place at the World Cup. Don't hold your breath. But we may get two more refs.

THE Thierry Henry handball fiasco, like Tiger Woods' mysterious car crash, just won't go away. Today, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter informs us the Republic of Ireland have asked for a 33rd place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next June - and he hinted two extra match officials may be used behind either goal at the tournament.
Ireland's reprieve is not going to happen. But it should. Lest we forget, Henry's basketball-style manipulation of the ball with his left arm led to the William Gallas goal which put France through at Ireland's expense in Paris a fortnight ago.
Right-thinking fans around the world - 345,000 of them on a Facebook petition alone, many of them French - demanded a replay. Even the Irish government became involved. But FIFA, being FIFA, declined the tidal wave of support for the replay without adequately explaining why.
Expect little better this time. Blatter, who appears to care only about certain countries and certain controversies (he allowed a replay between Uzbekistan and Bahraine over a disputed refereeing decision in a far less important World Cup qualifier) said only: "I will bring Ireland's request to the attention of the Executive Committee."
He might as well have told our inconsolable Irish neighbours: "Sorry, France are going, you're not. Ya boo."
Angry Irish fans won't be placated by the other titbit offered by Blatter, who finally admitted: "Something has to be done about match control" and suggested FIFA are thinking about introducing two extra officials for the tournament next year.
Once they have dismissed Ireland's request for an extra place at the table, the executive committee will hold "an emergency meeting" to discuss the addition of an extra match official behind either goal.
Their meeting takes place in Cape Town on Wednesday, two days ahead of Friday's eagerly-awaited World Cup draw, which will decide where and when each of the 32 nations plays.
But even if they agree to the change, it won't be put to the international board in Zurich until March. Blatter admitted: "We have only one man on the field of play who can intervene. He has two assistants for the time being, perhaps more in the future. He has to make an immediate decision.
"He has only two eyes. So match control is now is on the agenda. How shall we avoid such situations as we have seen in this very specific match? It's possible we will make additional officials for the World Cup but we have to see if it is feasible or realistic."
Unfortunately for Ireland, Costa Rica feel they were robbed by Uruguay too, citing an offside decision in their play-off defeat. That will, no doubt, be the excuse FIFA needs to keep Ireland out. They will argue if they let one side in, they'll have several demanding a place.
Unfazed, the FA of Ireland released a statement, confirming a 90-minute meeting with Blatter in Zurich last Friday.
The FAI said: "A lot was discussed at the meeting and at one stage the FAI asked if Ireland could be accommodated into the World Cup 2010.
"Other suggestions were also made to mitigate against further occurrences of such incidents, including the use of additional goal-line assistant referees for Fifa international matches, further use of video technology for matches at the highest level, stronger provisions to discourage players from engaging in such blatant breaches of the laws of the game and provisions to strengthen referee selection for such important matches."
Let's hope Blatter was paying attention. One day something might be done. But Ireland's exclusion will not be reversed... and their sense of injustice will take a long time to fade.

Labels: fifa, , , injustice, , sepp blatter,

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

I'm not like Maradona says Henry, the mouth of God

THIERRY HENRY should not be judged in the same bracket as fellow Hand-of-God user Diego Maradona. And who says so? Erm... Thierry himself.
Today we are assailed by another avalanche of self-justification and bluster from the man who cheated to put France through to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year, courtesy of a blatant handball.
Maradona did the same for Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final against England in Mexico 23 years ago but never admitted he cheated, preferring to refer to his deft finish over Peter Shilton as "the Hand of God".
Henry apparently feels he has the Mouth of God as he attempts to wriggle out of the situation he has created for himself.
The 32-year-old Frenchman has been under pressure ever since his basketball-style move helped make the crucial goal for William Gallas in Paris last week, but as the 450,000 strong Facebook petition to have the game replayed fades in FIFA's memory, the Barcelona striker says: "I was in a situation where, whatever happened, I couldn't have won. At a certain point I thought I had done something very seriously wrong. After the game I went to a press conference to say I had touched the ball with my hand.
"That is not like Maradona or Messi (his Barcelona team-mate Lionel also scored with his hand once, perhaps the Nou Camp has an expert on hand to explain this), I could have easily avoided it and not said a word.
"But I did not run away from my responsibilities. On Friday, when everything went too far, I was really upset."
Hold on a bit Thierry, most of Ireland and the rest of the football-speaking world were upset too. With you. And it hasn't helped that the perfectly acceptable idea of a replay - agreed as "the fairest solution" by you and a million others - appears to have been firmly shelved by FIFA.
Despite yesterday's claim that he nearly quit playing for France over the incident, Henry adds: "I've always fought for Les Bleus. Like a dog. I won't let my country down."
No, Thierry, you've already done that. Last Wednesday. With your left arm.
And like Maradona, that single act will define your career.

Labels: barcelona, diego maradona, hand of God, , , , , world cup

Monday, 23 November 2009

Abandoned Henry: I nearly quit playing for France after hand Gaul

Thierry Henry says today he felt “abandoned” by the French Football Federation last week – and insists he nearly quit international football after his blatant handball put the Republic of Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup in Paris last Wednesday.
Henry, whose basketball-style left-handed dribble set up the crucial goal for William Gallas, admitted he handled the ball but insisted: “I am not the referee” as the furore over his apparently deliberately actions raged.
While over 200,000 joined a Facebook petition and arranged a protest march to have the game replayed, Henry twittered it was “the only fair solution” but added: “It’s out of my control.”
And throughout it all, France’s top scorer with 51 goals insists he received no help or advice from French football or FIFA, who both declined the invitation to replay the game, despite the sour taste left by the French play-off triumph.
Henry explained how he and his lawyer issued the statement on Friday in which he said that a replay of the second leg would be the "fair solution” just hours after world FIFA had given a categoric NO.
Barcelona’s former Arsenal favourite Henry, 32, told L’Equipe this morning: "After the game, and even for the next two days, I felt alone, truly alone. It was only after I sent my statement that people from the French federation appeared.
"Despite everything that has happened, the fact of feeling abandoned, I do not let go of (playing for) my country.”
And Henry admits: "Yes, I asked myself the question should I retire from international football
"Without the support of my family, I perhaps would not have made the same decision.
"But I will always fight to the end - even if what just happened will be engraved in history. You can always forgive but you cannot always forget."
As for his apparently guilt-free celebration after the goal, Henry confessed: "I should not have done it. But frankly, it was uncontrollable. After all that had happened... yes, I regret it. That's why right after I spoke with the Irish one by one."
So what, in the light of this do we "hand" it to Thierry for his selfless decision to keep playing for a discredited France in South Africa next year... or do we wonder why he didn't threaten to quit UNLESS the French agreed to a replay. That way, he may just have polished up that tarnished reputation a little.

Labels: , hand gaul, hand of God, , play off petition facebook, play-off, , ,

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The ultimate Cantona solution: I would have punched Thierry

AH yes, trust Eric Cantona to put the whole thing in perspective. What should the Irish have done when Eric's fellow Frenchman Thierry Henry committed his blatant handball to put the Republic out of the World Cup in Paris on Wednesday? Punched him!
In fact, the fiery Cantona can't understand why Aston Villa's Richard Dunne didn't do exactly that when he sat with Henry after the whistle had gone and the Irish were forced to accept they had been cheated out of next year's carnival in South Africa.
As a very ordinary but highly-motivated South Bucks church league defenderr, I find myself in agreement, especially since the French have this morning refused the polite, safe-facing option of a replay, despite overwhelming public pressure.
Manchester United legend Cantona, who famously kung-fu kicked a fan for being rude to him at Crystal Palace, said: "What shocked me most wasn't the handball. It was at the end of the match wshen, in front of the cameras, Henry went and sat down next to an Irish player (Dunne) to console him, even though he'd screwed them three minutes earlier.
"If I'd been Irish, he wouldn't have lasted three seconds."
Cantona wasn't much nicer to France coach Raymond Domenech. He said: "I think Domenech is the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI."
Given that the "Sunshine King" was guillotined when the revolution came in 1793, Cantona presumably feels heads should roll.
Cantona advises: "If it was up to me, I'd put Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc (another former Manchester United Frenchman) in charge. First he wins the league with Bordeaux and then he wins the World Cup! I'm not the only one who thinks that."
Blimey, thanks Eric. All sorted then! Meanwhile the agony goes on for Irish supporters - and a world of football fans who have had enough of cheats prospering, going way back to Diego Maradona's disgusting Hand of God goal in 1986. At present, 342,014 of them have joined the petition on Facebook (adding some great virals, see above), and a march from Lansdowne Road to the French emabassy is scheduled as I write.
But do they listen, the people that runs football? First FIFA turned down the option of a replay, then the French shut the door this morning - despite Henry twittering last night he though a replay was "the fair choice, but it's out of my hands."
This morning Henry's twitter site is down after "dubious activity". Too honest perhaps, Thierry?

Labels: Eric Cantona, fifa, , , Raymond Domenech, ,

Friday, 20 November 2009

Replay? Now even Thierry agrees: It's only fair

IT took him nearly 44 hours, but at 3.49pm today, Thierry Henry finally admitted on Twitter: “It would be fair to replay the game, but its not my decision...”
And, yes, it may be a coincidence with another 20,456 following him, but that came less than an hour after I sent him the sycophantic: “@Thierry_Henry do you think there should be a replay? Everyone would have done what you did, but not many would apologise like that.”
You can check it, it's all there on nealcol on!
Ah, the wonders of modern technology. Probably just a coincidence. But whatever, it's the right thing to do for the once-heroic Henry whose reputation was tarnishing fast.
To recap: In the play-off second leg in Paris on Wednesday Henry’s blatant handball, missed by the Swedish officials, made the goal for William Gallas which put the Republic of Ireland out of next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
Today, the Mirror estimates the French will gain nearly £1billion from that single decision – and the people want the game replayed.
But with over 200,000 on Facebook petitioning for the cause – and planning a “peaceful, family march” from Lansdowne Road to the French embassy in Dublin tomorrow at 2pm – FIFA’s deeply unpopular Sepp Blatter has resolutely refused to bow to the pressure
That is, until Henry came out this afternoon with his twitter. Fair play to the bloke, I say. He admitted to Ireland’s Richard Dunne what he'd done straight after the game.
Then he told the press: “Yes, it was handball, but I am not the referee.” He laughed when somebody suggested he should have told the referee straight away... and in retrospect, he's right, Diego Maradona certainly didn't in that 1986 quarter-final (which should be replayed, though Diego's a bit fat now and God's hand is a little older)
And so to today, and the former Arsenal star, the former darling of North Bank, Highbury, accepted: "Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.
"There is nothing I can do apart from admit that the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our equalising goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish."
This bit's interesting. He explains: "I have said at the time and I will say again that yes I handled the ball. I am not a cheat and never have been. It was an instinctive reaction to a ball that was coming extremely fast in a crowded penalty area.
"As a footballer you do not have the luxury of the television to slow the pace of the ball down 100 times to be able to make a conscious decision. People are viewing a slow motion version of what happened and not what I or any other footballer faces in the game.
"If people look at it in full speed you will see that it was an instinctive reaction.
"It is impossible to be anything other than that. I have never denied that the ball was controlled with my hand. I told the Irish players, the referee and the media this after the game."
Interestingly, Henry's old boss Arsene Wenger agrees. He said: "Football accepts that a billion people see it, one guy doesn't see it, and yet it is the one who prevails. It cannot work.
"At the game, I saw the referee giving a goal knowing that something was wrong and that is really sad. In the end, he gave a goal already knowing that it wasn't a goal. We cannot accept that in our sport and you have to do something about it. The referee didn't see it, I can understand that, the linesman didn't see it, but they couldn't get any help.
"For the sense of justice it is quite embarrassing to see. I think even France is embarrassed. We didn't play well at all and we won the game and won the qualification with a goal that was not a goal."
This morning, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson weighed in with: "The stance is that Fifa prefers human decision-making rather than technology decision-making and until they change their mind there is nothing you can do about it - you have to convince them, nobody else.
"It is not a matter of asking every player and manager in the world their opinion because they will all share the same one, as I do myself, that technology can play a part and can help referees in a situation like the other night."
So, if we accept Henry didn't cheat, just did what every desperate footballer would, then the onus turns to FIFA. They won't use technology to help referees, though it is available. It was the referee who was at fault rather than Henry, who was just doing his job.
FIFA have allowed replays when referees have made mistakes before. And they have to do so again. The people demand it. And nearly every French post on Facebook admits it's the only way to save face. Blatter has no choice. Play it again.

Labels: France., , ,

Becks backs Thierry... but there has to be a replay

AT last, somebody has risen up to defend the great Thierry Henry after his "Hand of Gaul" assist for France against Ireland on Wednesday night.
While the rest of the world - and over 194,000 people on Facebook - call for a replay after Ireland's cruel departure from the World Cup in South Africa next year, none other than former England captain David Beckham has seen fit to come out fighting for Thierry.
Despite the obvious intent shown by Henry, pictured left in one of the many viral pictures flying around the web, and his admission of a red card offence in the build-up to William Gallas's decisive goal, England's most-capped outfield player Becks insists: "I know Thierry as a player and a person. He's a good person and a great player. It's a shame to see Ireland go out because they have such great fans. These things happen in football.
"But I honestly didn't think Thierry meant it. I don't think he is a cheat.
"I've had a few headlines in the past which have not been nice. Who knows what I would have done in that situation when you're playing in a qualifier to go through to the World Cup?
"I've been involved in big games and reacted to certain things and looked back and thought I was wrong to do that."
Beckham also admits he turned down a return to the Premier League in his interview with Sky Sports. But it is the Henry verdict which will inflame opinions on a day when Shay Given has come out complaining: "We feel cheated by both Henry and the officials. It's disgusting."
And Sunderland chairman and former Republic of Ireland striker Niall Quinn described the goal as "the biggest injustice I have ever seen in sport".
Quinn added: "People talk about Maradona's Hand of God goal but I'd say Henry's handball was the biggest injustice I've ever seen in sport. Maybe I feel it more because I'm Irish.
"All that I believe in and all that I love about sport was shattered when I saw something like that. It's possibly the lowest I've felt at any sporting moment in my life."
Strong stuff, Thing is, FIFA remain unmoved by the calls for a replay, just as I predicted 24 hours ago. And whatever Beckham feels, that's wrong. The people have spoken, play it again Sepp. Let's all email FIFA, bombard the French FA, do what it takes despite their 10.15am announcement today that it CANNOT be replayed. There is a point to be made. There are precedents. Cheats, my mother told me, never prosper.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Latest on France v Ireland... the three options

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has called on Fifa, football's world governing body, to order a replay, saying he would raise the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Brussels summit.
But France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon responded that the Irish government should not interfere in footballing decisions.
I'm on Sky News at 8.45am talking about this subject, please scroll through what I've written below and feel free to comment. If good points are made, I'll mention them on Sky tomorrow.
Facebook's petition for a replay has reached over 105,000 people, many of them French and backing the bid. There are over 100 pictures of Thierry Henry in various astonishing poses too... see left as a part of the ever-popular Jedward from X Factor. Some of them are not quite suitable for a family website!
The way I see it there are three options:
1: Ban Henry for intentional handball, a red card offence. First two matches of the World Cup finals?
2: Replay the game. They got the unscheduled third clash between Algeria v Egypt on in four days, why not this, when you consider Uzbekistan v Bahraine and Arsenal v Birmingham (FA Cup, after Kanu neglected to stop for an injury).
3: Issue a public apology to the Irish people and put France through, punish the Swedish officials by throwing them out of the World Cup.
I'm afraid the last option is the most likely. But wouldn't it be bloody wonderful if, for once, the cheats were taught a lesson and a replay was awarded, at a neutral venue, with a 0-0 scoreline? Next thing you know, England will get a replay against Argentina to make up for 1986!

Labels: diego maradona, , hand of God, , ,

Replay? Justice? It's not going to happen

SO the Irish, like most other right-minded football fans, want a replay. They feel Thierry Henry's blatant handball - understandable but unforgivable - robbed them of their place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
As of now, the Republic of Ireland are out, beaten 2-1 in extra-time thanks to Henry's basketball-style move just wide of the right upright which resulted in a cross to make William Gallas's decisive header.
Henry can be clearly seen explaining afterwards that he had cheated as he sat with distraught Irishman Richard Dunne. He hasn't gone quite that far since, simply admitting: "I did handle the ball, but I am not the referee."
And as the clamour for justice mounts, the Republic's charming Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni insists: "This situation has to give a chance to who is responsible to rethink. It can be repeated in the future and we have to stop it."
But he accepts: "When a referee decides a game has finished I know it is impossible to replay the game."
Even the Swedish press have blasted their trio of officials for failing to spot the greatest handball since Diego Maradona circa 1986. Aftonbladet said: "There are approximately 80 million Irishmen around the world. We guarantee they all feel pretty bad today.
"But I sincerely hope there are three Swedes that feel even worse.
"They are Martin Hansson and (referee's assistants) Stefan Wittberg and Fredrik Nilsson. There will be no World Cup for Ireland and I assume that Team Hansson has also forfeited its right to continue to take charge of major international matches.
"Anything else would be a further insult to the Irish nation."
A replay might ease the pressure on the three Swedes too, but Fifa have already released a statement saying: "The hand ball was recognised by the Fifa commissioner, the referee observer and the match officials, as well as by the player himself.
"There is precedent for the invalidation of such results. In 2005, the bureau of the Fifa World Cup organising committee reached a decision to invalidate the result of a World Cup qualification match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain on the basis of a 'technical error by the referee of the match'.
"But Law 5 of the Laws of the Game states that: The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.
"The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match."
So that's it. No replay unless you're Uzbeki or Bahraini.
The FAI hit back with a terse: "We hope Fifa and its disciplinary committee will, on behalf of football fans world-wide, act in a similar fashion so that the standards of fair play and integrity can be protected."
Trapattoni questioned their competence of the Swedish trio and still wants to know why Fifa seeded the play-off draw at late notice, making things, theoretically, easier for the French (at this point most people would mention UEFA president Michel Platini hails from just across the channel, but that would be very provocative), though they made heavy weather of it.
Trapattoni's final verdict: "All sports lose credibility with this situation - it affects the integrity of the game. For me it's bitter. There are many questions.
"There are many doubts that have to be eliminated. Out of the non-seeded teams we were the only ones to play the second game away - why?"
La Figaro quotes Henry saying this: "I know what it is you want me to say and I am not going to lie - there was hand.
"The ball hit my hand and I continued to play. The referee didn't blow his whistle and there was a goal. Obviously I would have preferred that things panned out differently but I am not the official. I do not think we have stolen qualification."
Sorry Thierry, you're wrong. In the digital age, which so much at stake, either you get banned for cheating... or the match gets replayed.
But we all know neither will happen. France are through, it's what the big guys wanted.

Labels: blatter, diego maradona, fifa, , platini, , , world cup

Hand of Gaul? Nope, Thierry's a cheat and he's admitted it

THIERRY HENRY'S public quote was short and to the point: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the ref. I played it. The ref allowed it."
And so the process of trying to save a once sparkling reputation begins. Henry's blatant handball in Paris last night saw France grab an extra-time goal to put the Republic of Ireland out of next year's World Cup.
The headlines are lurid, the public want the former hero of Highbury to pay for one of the most obvious handballs ever missed by three officials (though there's always Diego's 1986 effort). Henry nearly caught the ball from Malouda's free-kick, before pushing the ball square for William Gallas to head home the vital goal. And everybody knew what he'd done.
Ireland's Richard Dunne said this morning: "Thierry told us we deserved to win. How is that supposed to make me feel? It makes me feel worse. He’s admitted he cheated. We should have won the game. He just said 'that's it'.
"He just said he handled it, he didn’t mean it. Looking at it, it’s quite obvious he did mean it. It’s there for everyone to see and they’re not going to change it now."
Another former Arsenal legend, Liam Brady, said: "It's a bad day for football," yet curiously Anfield great Ronnie Whelan said it was all part of the game, that anybody would have done what Henry did.
Elsewhere there are calls for a ban. The argument goes: If Eduardo can be punished (though he was exonerated on appeal) for diving against Celtic, how can Henry get away with THAT?
And of course they're right. Henry should be suspended from the first two games of next year's World Cup for his obviously deliberate actions. It's the least FIFA can do.

Labels: emirates football neal collins world cup, , liam brady, , richard dunne,

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The hand of God II? No, Thierry, it's your Waterloo, you're just a common cheat.

AT the last count, there were 4,459,547 people in the Republic of Ireland. France, on the other hand, boasts 62,048,473 garlic-eating surrenderers. That's what my grand-dad Poppa Sam from Dublin always said, anyway.
I've never minded the French. But there is an older generation who never forgave them. Said they put their hands up too quickly in the 1940s.
You could understand why last night when Thierry Henry all but caught the ball to provide William Gallas with the goal which put the Irish out of the World Cup. Arsenal fans might call Henry's actions the Hand of God II, but his demonic intervention will not be swiftly forgotten, just ask Diego Maradona. It's not clever. It's cheating. I'm sure he'll try to justify it, but sorry Thierry, there is no way this was an accident or a reflex, it was just WRONG.
Florent Malouda's free-kick was clearly going out of play late in the first period of extra-time when Henry used his left arm - not once but twice - to keep the ball in before playing in Gallas for the point-blank winner which made it 1-1 on the night. Oh, and the whole move looked suspiciously offside from the moment the free-kick was taken.
The last tango in Paris for controversial French boss Raymond Domenech should have been inspired by Robbie Keane's perfectly legitimate goal, set up when Kevin Kilbane freed Damien Duff with a lovely first-time pass. Duff's inch-perfect cut-back was comfortably stuck away by Spurs striker Keane to level the World Cup play-off after Nicolas Anelka scored the only goal at Croke Park, Dublin on Saturday.
When Anelka looked like doing it again eight minutes into extra-time, Shay Given came out and looked like he scythed the Chelsea man down. The Stade Francais crowd, apart from the 25,000 in green who had made the trip, universally saw it that way. Fortunately referee Martin Hansson reckoned minimal contact had been made. Goal-kick. Phew. And the unbooked Anelka barely complained. But any gratitude towards the Swedish ref was soon ruined by his failure to spot Henry's basketballing intervention minutes later. Digusting. Henry, you've lost a million admirers.
Oh, Portugal are through without the help of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, they won 1-0 in Bosnia thanks to Raul Meireles to go through 2-0 on aggregate. Russia, with Andrey Arshavin's men down to nine, failed against Slovenia, going down 1-0 to go out on away goals in a 2-2 aggregate finish. Greece won 1-0 in the Ukraine to go through, so we've probably seen the last of Andrei Shevchenko.
Result of the night? That would be Algeria beating Egypt 1-0 in a hastily arranged play-off after the two North African giants finished level on all fronts at the top of their qualifying group. Antar Yahia got the only goal at the completely bonkers El Merreikh stadium in Khartoum, where 15,000 police were on duty. There were all-night parties in London's Finsbury Park as every Algerian celebrated reaching the finals for the first time since Mexico 86.
So how about the less warlike games outside of the World Cup qualifiers? David Villa scored twice as unbeatable Spain beat Austria 5-1 in Vienna. Lukas Podolski scored two as Germany - mourning the suicide of goalkeeper Robert Enke - drew 2-2 with Ivory Coast. Italy beat Sweden 1-0, the Netherlands and Paraguay drew 0-0.
Angola and Ghana also failed to create a goal, Italy saw off Sweden 1-0 and the mighty USA, seller of the most tickets for South Africa next year, went down 3-1 in Denmark. At Fulham's Craven Cottage, World Cup qualifiers South Korea were beaten 1-0 by Serbia.
And Brighton beat woeful Wycombe 2-0 to reach the FA Cup second round.

Labels: cheat, Paris, , Russia, , USA, Wycombe