Friday, November 20, 2009

Weighing in

Everyone has an opinion on the Thierry Henry handball. (What's the saying about opinions and assholes again?) Reaction to this incident has been anything but conservative, so much so that even soccer neophytes have an asshole opinion about it.

I wouldn't be worth my bloggerly salt if I didn't at least weigh-in on this issue.

First, let me make it abundantly clear: It is entirely regrettable that this happened. Games ought to be decided by the players on the pitch, not a missed referee's decision. As much as penalty kicks are a poor way to decide, on account of the significant element of chance and randomness, there is some skill involved there (just ask Simeon Jackson or Iain Hume). Going out due to an officiating mistake is brutal, and any Canadian fan will have felt this kind of sting by now. Nothing compared to the sting of Irish fans, though.

Ireland were hard done by, and I'd have no big complaints if the replay was granted. I'd also have no complaints if it wasn't. This is sport and things like this happen.

What I do have trouble with are the following:

1. Thierry Henry being outrageously piled on for being a "cheat"
I've played soccer. So, probably, have many of you. I've been guilty of the occasional handball. Everyone has: it's an instinctual act when the ball comes near to you. Sometimes I was caught, others I wasn't. I can tell you for damn certain that when I managed to get away with it, I didn't stop playing and call over the ref and inform him of my misdeed.

A handball, in case you were wondering, is an infraction on the laws of the game. However, the laws of the game are filled abundantly with lists of other infringements. I could go on ranting about this, but Vs poster Jeffrey S kills it in his analysis:
The game of soccer does not distinguish between the majority of rule breakages, they are almost all the same. Only a few are considered worse and get cards, and a few are even worse and warrant sanctions and suspensions. But they are all rule breakages and the game only conceives playing by the rules and breaking the rules. So for even those mistakengly calling rule breakage "cheating", a deliberate foul is cheating, as much as a deliberate hand ball, a deliberate push, a deliberate jumping off the defensive wall and attacking the ball on a free kick before the whistle is blown. All boot tackles and elbows, all shirt tugging, all diving, even taking off your shirt to celebrate a goal. It is all the same, they all consitute breaking the rules. Which is how they are treated, and should be treated, as rule breakages, nothing more.
Henry is under immense scrutiny because his action resulted in a critical goal, but if he had gone unpunished for a deliberate handball in the 38th minute that didn't result in a goal, nobody would be calling for a lifetime ban or any of the other ridiculous sanctions I've heard thrown about.

There are people to blame here, but not Henry. I nearly puked after hearing smarmin' Sharman get way up on his high horse on this issue during yesterday's Footy Show podcast (or maybe it was because I buried myself on a bike ride when I am clearly no longer in cycling shape).

2. The attitude that Ireland "deserved" to go through
Guess what: this is sport. People don't deserve anything. You either win or you don't.

What I detected (call me crazy) is a certain prejudicial undertone that people would rather have a bunch of hardscrabble and hardworking pale-skinned gingers who never see the sun advance to the World Cup on the strength of their pluck and moxie; over a clearly more metropolitan and talented group of players that are massive underachievers. It's like the Don Cherry syndrome in hockey, a man who'd rather have a team of plumbers than virtuosos.

It's as if people equate diligent hard work with fair play. And they're right! After all, we all know that Ireland protested the result after they were gifted this shocking penalty:

Oh wait, they didn't? But you said . . .

I'm more inclined to listen to Roy Keane on the matter (as much as it pains me):

"They can complain all they want but France are going to the World Cup. Get over it.

"If I'd been there in the dressing room after the game, I wouldn't be talking about the handball. I'd focus on why the defenders didn't clear it. They should've cleared it.

"I'd be more annoyed with my defenders and my goalkeeper than Thierry Henry. 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? These are skills and lessons you learn as a schoolboy.

"Ireland had their chances in the two games and they never took them but it's the usual FAI (Football Association of Ireland) reaction - 'we've been robbed, the honesty of the game...' It's rubbish."

He's a bit harsh, but as often is the case, also correct. He cites the same penalty decision in the article, and the FAI are rightly cast as hypocrites.

This much is fact: Ireland were the better team for at most one half of soccer over the two-legged tie. They lost at home, and couldn't tack on an extra goal after they scored early in Paris.

I don't mean to argue the inverse: that France deserve to go through. The "deserve" argument should be dead and buried. But if you're beholden to it, there's no way you could argue that they deserve any less to be in the World Cup than do Ireland.

For my money, France are a more interesting team, but that has nowt to do with any of this.

Hey, look over there: New FIFA rankings!

Canada dropped 4 spots to 57th (in case you're wondering, Poland and Macedonia remained in 56th and 66th respectively). We're also 5th in CONCACAF, though I'd need Pompey Canuck to tell me whether this is high enough to avoid the bad juju come the draw for the next qualifying round.


Ted Godwin said...

Clearly you have no idea what the word "cheat" means. If we accept Jeffrey's view of the world there is no such thing as "cheating". Clearly Henry broke the rules and got a benefit from doing so. That is cheating. Simply breaking the rules is not cheating. Breaking the rules can be accidental (unintentional) or an attempt to cheat which can be successful or unsuccessful. You are right, a handball in the 38th minute in the middle of the pitch with no affect on the scoreline would not merit a mention because it would not be cheating. The moment Henry passed the ball he had controlled with his hand it became cheating and when he made no objection to the goal he showed a lack of moral fibre.

Does not BTW mean I think the game should be replayed. It does make me think less of Henry and is another plank in the push for goal-line officials (as opposed to electronic nonsense).

Brenton said...

"when he made no objection to the goal he showed a lack of moral fibre."

Please. I can think of two, only two, occasions in the past decade when a player protested an advantage they had gained unfairly. So I suppose you would agree that every other player in the world of soccer that played on after handling the ball or took the penalty after diving or any other advantage gained from rule infractions that weren't caught also lack moral fibre? Does Robbie Keane lack moral fibre for taking that penalty above when it was undeserved?