It is probably something of a truism to say that the French soccer team handled the World Cup play off against Ireland in Paris on Wednesday better than the Swedish referee. Something of a turnip, the key match official remained rooted to his spot and failed to notice the adroitly administered but illegally executed coup de grace that ensured we won’t be bored by Ireland’s contribution to next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa.

Trappatoni’s firm played with heart in Paris but the chances of the team managing to dazzle for any period of time are remote. Kick, rush, hope for the best, not the ingredients for scintillating soccer. You need to be an indefatigable nationalist rather than a soccer aficionado to derive enjoyment from watching them.

The team’s exit has been the topic of conversation all over. On a bus yesterday evening two women were discussing it loudly. ‘Disgraceful’ was the preferred if constantly repeated adjective of one of them as she spat it out in a strong West Indian accent. Then she announced to the laughter of the rest of us that Stevie Wonder would have seen the Thierry Henry handball incident that sealed Ireland’s fate and saved France’s bacon.

World Cups rarely live up to anticipation and fail to deliver the goods that the viewing public and paying fans have a right to expect given the abundance of talent that is often trumpeted to be on display. There is little chance that South Africa will reproduce the flowing play that graced last year’s European Championship hosted by Switzerland and Austria. Despite the best efforts of Donkeyonkis and his ten fellow defenders even pointless Greece failed to diminish the quality of that competition, the best international soccer spectacle since the 1970 Mexico World Cup finals.

I only watched part of the game two nights ago. Despite having little interest one way or the other the enthusiasm of the Irish fans was infectious although not enough to hold me beyond half time. The team did enough to win but not enough to convince the turnip in charge that officiating at such a level requires more judgement than the average vegetable is capable of delivering.

The soccer powers-that-be will prefer France to travel next summer and will not rue Ireland sitting at home. The French, we are told, have an abundance of Gallic flair, although watching Thierry Henry you could be forgiven for thinking it was Gaelic flair. Kerry’s Gooch Cooper could hardly have used his hand to better effect. The problem with French flair however is that it is latent. Nobody sees it anymore. Just as the capital of cuisine is now Tokyo rather than Paris, the epicentre of soccer skill is no longer rooted in the Parisians. That ghost was given up with, even before, the departure of Zinedine Zidane. Beaten finalists in the last World Cup final the French slogged it out, and in some instances slugged it out, with the equally pedestrian Italians. It is one of the paradoxes of our minds that we still remember that forgettable occasion. It is hard to see this current French side go far in South Africa. If they do, stand by for another underwhelming sporting extravaganza minus any extravagance.

Chances are France will play like they did when they set out to defend their crown in Seoul. They scrounged a point but failed to score a single goal and slithered off home like snails sans the customary gourmet value that a French palate might appreciate. They got eaten up anyway.

No point in being too hard on Thierry Henry. When Diego Maradona backhanded English hopes in the face during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico I temporarily considered taking up Catholicism so that I could better argue for his canonisation. And had Robbie Keane got away with his handball early in the first half in Paris, dribbled past two defenders and hit the back of the onion bag it would be hard to find many on these shores screaming for a rematch. Robbie would be a hero, given the freedom of Dublin, and Sarkozy dismissed as a plaintive frog who would be better advised to turn his sour grapes into wine and drown his sorrows.

It was a tough outcome. Teams are sometimes bundled out of competitions. Ireland’s misfortune was to have been handled out of one. And despite the wailing and the gnashing of teeth had the Irish team done what it ought to have last Saturday during the home leg, Henry’s sleight of hand would have been academic. One winner is the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni. The conditions under which his team failed to qualify will ensure that the media in its hunt for a new Steve Staunton will be unable to label him Crapattoni for some time to come.


  1. Agree, Trapatoni realistic and objective. Roy keane should keep quiet, I was in Japan in 2002 [ BRIEFLY] and it wasn't a free trip..he's just on another ego outing.
    When the dust settles we can all go back to supporting Englands opponents and be greatful we don't have to endure Irelands mind numbing 'ability' in S.A. We had our final and the lads did as well, actually much better, than expected.
    The Irish government are showing us up as a two bit nation getting embarrassing.

  2. AM

    Good post, I have been avoiding the media even more than usual and hanging around with women so I don't have to listen to the bloody wingeing and francophobic remarks.


  3. Interesting one this, especially the reaction of the English press. Suddenly Murdoch has become Irelands best friend, in your dreams ah?

    I also sensed that nasty anti European stance we come to expect from this crowd. I saw the Sun front page in my paper shop which had the word frogs on it. I'm being serious here, just shows the mentality of some of these English public school boys Murdoch hires these days, now why could he be doing that I wonder?

    According to these creeps the French are Frogs, the Irish Paddy terrorists, which makes Murdoch gofers what, racist scum with a political motive me thinks.
    That basterd should have been lobotomised at birth and the world would have been better for it.