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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,

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

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, , ,

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,