Reuters Soccer Blog
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France ensured the likes of Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Thierry Henry will be at the World Cup in South Africa next year after winning through with a goal that has left Irish fans seething.
There was nothing wrong with the finish from William Gallas, but Thierry Henry admitted using his hand to keep the ball in play and commentators and Irish supporters are already talking of “The Hand of God II” and “The Hand of Henry” in reference to Diego Maradona in 1986.
“Yes, there is handball but I am not the referee,” Henry told reporters. “I’m in the box, there are two defenders in front of me. The ball bounced off my hand, the referee did not see it and I played on.”
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni called the goal a “great mistake” by Swedish referee Martin Hansson but he chose not to accuse Henry of cheating.
Depending on the results of the second legs of the UEFA World Cup playoffs on Wednesday, next year’s tournament in South Africa could contain rather too many of football’s lesser lights for some fans out there.
Portugal, France and Russia, could all perish and the tournament, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game, could have a cast list including Honduras, New Zealand, North Korea, Slovakia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
Giovanni Trapattoni may have cause to regret his decision to leave Sunderland playmaker Andy Reid out in the cold when Ireland face France on Saturday and next Wednesday in their two-legged World Cup play-off.
Reid has been in sparkling form for his club this season in the Premier League, notching some fantastic goals, notably from free-kicks — an area Ireland need to improve on with the exception of Glenn Whelan’s thunderbolts from long range.
Milan have just announced the deal on their website (just in Italian for now), meaning any lingering hopes Premier League clubs had of changing the England midfielder’s mind have finally been dashed.
Joel Santana arrived for what he thought was a routine review of his work with his South African Football Association bosses on Monday and within hours was packing his bags for a return to Brazil, ending his tenure as the 15th coach employed by South Africa in the last 17 years.
The run of poor results in recent internationals plus last year’s early elimination from the African Nations Cup qualifiers, had left Bafana Bafana in deep crisis, a team without any confidence or direction and running out of time before hosting the 2010 World Cup finals.
So now we know which European teams are in the World Cup playoffs and we have a pretty good idea of the seedings, though FIFA’s updated rankings out at the end of the week will provide confirmation ahead of Monday’s draw.
It looks like Russia, France, Greece and Portugal will be the seeded teams with Ukraine, Ireland, Bosnia and Slovenia playing them. After Argentina’s qualification in the final match against Uruguay, it looks increasingly likely that all the big teams will be there in South Africa.
Unusually, the final night of European World Cup qualifying is a bit of a damp affair. Most of the groups have been decided, with by and large just the second-places, and play-off berths, up for grabs.
Undeterred, we shall keep you up to date with what’s going on in Europe as a prelude to the really serious business of the night … the decisive match in Montevideo, where Argentina are playing for their lives against Uruguay.
The above picture was the defining image of Argentina’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Peru in the rain on Saturday, and perhaps Diego Maradona’s tenure as national team coach to date.
For many in Argentina, Maradona’s reactions are indicative of an approach to the job that is too emotional.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and for every FIFA marketing slogan there is a subsequent decision that can make fans wonder if world football’s governing body is being serious.
“Fair Play Please” is the current favourite but how, exactly, does that square with the decision to make the European zone World Cup playoffs a seeded affair?