November 19, 2009
Posted: 952 GMT
An unpleasant whiff of injustice is polluting the air for football followers across the globe. France are through to the World Cup, but only after a blatant handball from Thierry Henry.
Although they are celebrating qualification, Les Bleus look distinctly red-faced.
If you haven’t seen the controversial goal in question it shouldn’t take you long to find. Thousands have watched it online – many leaving outraged comments, believing that Henry handled the ball to stop it going out of play.
Without that illegal act there was no way he would have been able to set up William Gallas’s winning goal. And there is no debate over his guilt, because the Barcelona star has admitted as much.
“I will be honest. It was a handball,” he confessed afterwards. However, he insists it was up to the referee to spot the incident not for him to own up.
I agree it would have been an astonishing act of sportsmanship if Henry had rushed up to the match official to tell him the truth. There was so much at stake. A World Cup without France, the champions as recently as 1998, would have been unthinkable. And if the goal was ruled out because Henry intervened he would have been vilified in his home country.
Instead, he has become a villain for football fans everywhere else. There is a real danger that Henry’s reputation will be dented. The former Arsenal man is a skilful, speedy striker, graceful and so clean-cut that razor company Gillette use him to promote their brand globally, alongside stars like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.
However, before we rush to sign the sporting obituary of this enchanting and genial performer we need to bear two things in mind.
First, Ireland’s manager Giovanni Trappatoni, given the chance to blame Henry, instead pointed the finger at the referee for missing the incident.
Second, even if the goal had been disallowed, the Republic would not necessarily have qualified for the World Cup finals. There were still 17 minutes of extra time to be played and then the tie would have gone to a penalty shoot-out, with no guarantee that Ireland would have come out on top.
Ultimately, Le Hand of God will again call into question FIFA’s refusal to use television replays to assist the referee during a game.
Within seconds of France’s "goal," replays showed the truth to viewers around the world. When will football’s governing body see what is staring the rest of us in the face?