Political Football?

As the French progress to the World Cup Finals of 2010, one has to ponder if whether the former one-time tournament winners really deserved a spot in the biggest sports event in the world. After a controversial play-off win against a strong Republic of Ireland side the result is now highly contested. The person under the spotlight is France skipper Thierry Henry, whose handball eluded the booking it should’ve gotten, but there’s another question now: is it just a simple case of a player cheating to gain a favourable result? Or is something more massive involved here? Perhaps a case of dirty politics buying the result? There is no proof on that, let’s just hope the sport we all watch and love does not turn into something political.

France captain Thierry Henry(L) sits down with Ireland’s Richard Dunne.

A string of poor results made fans think that maybe the 2010 FIFA World Cup would be without the likes of Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery or Nicolas Anelka. France, once a winner of the prestigious tournament, were pipped to the automatic qualification spot by Serbia, a small, soccermad nation. The mighty (or once-mighty) French had to settle for a spot in the play-offs.

This was a real test for their manager, Raymond Domenech. If the French didn’t qualify, it would be their first absence from the World Cup since 1994. That’s over fifteen years. It would be a massive disappointment for the French who are extremely passionate about the game. Other than the fact that they are without their legendary midfielder, Zinedine Zidane, the French would not have any other excuse if they did fail to qualify.

And so the draws were made, France was pitted to go against the Republic of Ireland, another soccermad nation. The Irish were in the right condition to pull an upset against France, they nearly secured automatic promotion by a near win against current World Cup holders, Italy, had it not been for a late equaliser the Irish players and fans would already be applying for visas to South Africa now.

The first leg was held in Belfast, despite dominating a greater amount of time the luck of the Irish ran out as a Nicolas Anelka strike broke Irish hearts, 1-0.

The Irish needed a greater amount of their luck at the second leg, as they had to beat the French on their home soil by two goals. The men in green had to pull off a miracle to get this one, and the fans watching were about to believe in it as their captain, Robbie Keane, scored one on the 34th minute. The score on aggregate were tied 1-1, both away goals. Extra time came and the Irish hearts were broken again when William Gallas headed home a goal.

At this point, the Irish felt a lot of things: sad, heartbroken, angry.

The nature of the goal seemed very controversial, France captain Thierry Henry used his hand to scoop the ball back to his foot and made the cross to William Gallas that gave France the goal. Irish players swiftly ran to the referee, protesting that the handball should be booked and the goal be disallowed. However, the referee waved off the protests and allowed the goal, angering the Irish fans and players.

The whistle blew for full time, as the joyous French celebrated qualification along with their manager, Raymond Domenech, the Irish were left dejected and dissappointed. After playing as if their lives were on the line they were to be denied a chance to play for the World Cup by an unfair handball.

Ireland captain Robbie Keane is just one of the players of the Irish squad that fought for World Cup qualification.

And the Irish yelled a familiar protest, “Politics!”. Although there are no real proofs, politics ruining the fairness of the game could be justified. The sport’s governing body, FIFA has been well-known to favor the elites. The play-off selections were already accounted for questioning as the small teams were pitted against the elite, big nations. Portugal were drawn with Bosnia-Herzegovina, for one. And then this game, France against the Republic of Ireland.

FIFA’s European arm, UEFA, has been the confederation mostly tainted by politics. It’s decision to revoke Gibraltar Island’s application to join the confederation remains a mystery to most people today. If we all know our history, Gibraltar Island is a British military territory captured from Spain. And taking note of Spain’s influence in UEFA, the British island may have gotten an unfair ruling from the body.

Football should be football, and politics should be politics. A mix of the two could produce disastrous results. People often turn to sports to relieve them from the stress of politics, but if politics ruins their sport then whats left to turn to?

As for Ireland’s woes, let’s just hope that they learn to move on and train their next generation players for the 2014 World Cup. For France, let’s hope guilt takes the most out of them and would ruin their chance of a second title, that would only make it fair. And as for the World Cup, well let’s hope they won’t be playing political football during that time.

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