With Hand Of God, France Edges Ireland In Soccer
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Finally this hour, it is an exciting time for soccer fans. Yesterday, six countries booked the final spots in next year's World Cup and none more controversially than France.
The French team eliminated Ireland after scoring a goal that clearly involved the touch of that no-no in soccer: a hand. Here to explain what's being referred to around the world either as (French spoken) or in Franglaise, le hand of God, is our regular sports commentator Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And the original hand of God was scored by Diego Maradona during the World Cup in 1986. What happened yesterday in Paris?
FATSIS: Well, this was the second leg of a two-game playoff. Ireland led the game one to nothing, but it had lost the first match last week in Ireland by the same score. So the teams were effectively tied and had to play two 15- minute overtimes. If neither had scored, the winner would've been determined by penalty kicks.
But in the first extra period, France took a free kick that bounced to the international star Thierry Henry, just to the left of the Irish goal. He stopped the ball with his outstretched left hand and then directed it with his hand to his foot, tapped it to a teammate, who headed it into the net. The Irish players raced upfield with their arms raised, signifying hand ball, but the Swedish referee apparently didn't see it.
SIEGEL: Thierry Henry has actually admitted that it was a hand ball. It had nothing to do with God. Unlike Maradona, who never admitted it, but the world's reaction has not been kind to Thierry Henry and the French team, apparently even among the French.
FATSIS: No, many French commenters, I was reading some English and Irish newspaper Web sites, French were writing in, saying how apologetic they were and how they didn't feel like we deserve to qualify for the World Cup. Irish headlines in newspapers: Le Cheat, The Hand of Frog, Daylight Robbery. Others are calling for fans to boycott products sponsored by Thierry Henry, who's a very, very big star and someone who was respected for his stance against racism in European soccer. Now, though, he is being viewed as a cheater.
SIEGEL: Yeah, my favorite headline actually was in the Irish Times: Mood Darkens as Recriminations Begin.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: If this isn't cheating, what is cheating in soccer?
FATSIS: You know, I don't think any player would've reacted any differently in the moment. The onus is on the officials. The ref missed the hand ball. His assistant on the sidelines also missed it, as well as the fact that two French players appeared to be off-side on the play.
Now, Ireland's football association today asked soccer's governing body, FIFA, to replay the game. That is not likely because the ref's error was one of judgment, not a mistake in application of the rules.
SIEGEL: So much for Thierry Henry's hand and other violations of the rules. Who else qualified for the World Cup?
FATSIS: Portugal, Uruguay, Slovenia, my own Greece - way to go, Greece - and Algeria. Algeria eliminated Egypt yesterday in a game that's having political repercussions. Egypt reportedly has recalled its ambassador to Algeria for consultations after the loss yesterday. And now there was tremendous animosity building toward yesterday's playoff match. Last week, the two teams had met in Cairo. Egypt won. There were reports and video showing Egyptians fans throwing rocks at the Algerian team bus that bloodied some players.
Yesterday's match was played on neutral ground in The Sudan, but Egypt said it was recalling its ambassador because some fans were attacked, allegedly, after the game there.
SIEGEL: Now, there is also some soccer, less contentious, I might add, to be played closer to home this weekend: the MLS championship.
FATSIS: The Los Angeles Galaxy against Real Salt Lake. The feature attraction, of course, is the English star David Beckham of Los Angeles, who has redeemed his image this year totally. Beckham had arrived in the U.S. back in 2007 to great fanfare, but the first two years were a flop. Beckham was hurt.
A recent book "The Beckham Experiment" by Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl reported that he was indifferent. He was criticized in the book by Landon Donovan, the U.S. National Team star, who's also on the Galaxy. They worked out their differences, apparently, and now they're in the final, which is thrilling Major League Soccer executives.
The championship game Sunday night in Seattle, it's worth mentioning that city debuted a franchise this year, the Sounders, which averaged 31,000 fans. That's a record for the league and a real success story for Major League Soccer on its slow march to acceptance and popularity here in this country.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis is a panelist on the weekly sports podcast Hang Up and Listen on Slate.com. And he joins us, of course, each week to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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