The last play-off encounter for the 2010 FIFA World Cup could not have been more dramatic than this. After the Les Bleus got the solitary goal in the 1-0 victory in the 1st leg at Croke Park, the Irish needed a convincing win over the home team when they travelled to France for the 2ndleg. It indeed was expected to be a fierce encounter between the two as the last ticket to South Africa was at stake and the game did not let anybody down.
The game ended at 90 mins with the scores level on aggregate and extra time was needed to know our last World Cup finalist. Just as the 1st period of extra time was about to end, French skipper Thierry Henry handled the ball in the penalty box to stop it from going out and set it up for defender William Gallas to head in the goal which would later prove to be the winner.
The Irish players protested, led by keeper Shay Given but the referee had already awarded the goal to the home team. The final whistle at 120 mins meant that France had qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Following this game, voices were raised against FIFA about the standard of referees in such important games. The Football Association of Ireland filed an appeal to FIFA for a rematch after Henry himself confessed to have handled the ball, not once but twice. FIFA should consider that this a World Cup play-off and not a simple league game for a team.
For such important games, first of all, the referees should be spot-on with each decision and if there are any dubious decisions made by the referee in such important games, FIFA and UEFA surely need to take some action. What has happened here is that such a refereeing error has hampered Ireland’s chances at the biggest sporting tournament on the globe.
People will agree with me on this that although France won the 1st leg, the Irish were more impressive on field than the French. Even in the return fixture, Ireland gave out a splendid performance and undoubtedly, it was Ireland who deserved to win over the two legs.
And that did show in the game at the Stade de France. The Irish actually fared better than the French and really deserved a place in the WC. And barring that goal from Gallas, even if the game had gone into penalties, I can say that Shay Given would have performed better than Hugo Lloris, on any given day.
After FIFA turned down the FAI’s request for a rematch stating that "The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.",Henry released a statement saying that a rematch will be the ‘fairest solution’ but he is no official to decide that.
Even though FIFA uphold their decision of France’s qualification, I think Henry should be hailed for his honesty and total professional conduct. With a fast-paced international game in progress, it could not have been anything but instinctive to handle the ball in such a situation. But the courage to go on record and admit one's own mistake is not what we see from many internationals.
Many of the biggies in global football like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arséne Wenger etc. and former international referee Graham Poll suggested that FIFA should use the video referral system in such high-profile games to avoid any future controversies. Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni also emphasised on the importance of the video technology like the ones used in cricket and tennis.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter's silence over the whole incident has been criticized by many in spite of him holding the top job in world football. His comments on the Cristiano Ronaldo related 'slave-trade' issue in football a few months ago and also on diving, video technology and refereeing standards were hailed by personalities all over the world.
But where is he now ? No public comment or press conference. He has already been branded a 'cheat-charter' for backing France. Staying quiet is going to help neither his image nor that of FIFA. He has to come out clarifying his decisions and fast !
But looking at it in another way, I think FIFA and UEFA are right to a certain extent in not sanctioning the rematch. Doing so, the world of football will straight go into utter chaos. Any such incident in the future and every other federation will go about asking for a rematch. That can be the only sensible reason why FIFA could have declined the FAI's request. UEFA president Michel Platini being French himself could be the other, influencing the decision from FIFA.
French manager Raymond Domenech, after being under fire for his side’s lacklustre performance in Euro 2008, can now heave a sigh of relief. But at the end of the day, the Irish were robbed of a World Cup berth and FIFA should well have a look at this once again keeping in mind their much vaunted Fair Play ethos.