Road to South Africa: Regarding Henry

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports
Thierry Henry (12) handled the ball in the box

Road to South Africa: Regarding Henry

Thierry Henry (12) handled the ball in the box

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

The defining moment of World Cup qualifying's final day was one that had no place being associated with the greatest event in international soccer.

Thierry Henry's deliberate handball that set up France's playoff victory against the Republic of Ireland has already sparked heavy and heated debate across the soccer globe. However, there is only one thing that needs to be known about the incident, and now, about Henry.

He is a cheat.

Whether his action is as serious as a baseball player taking steroids or a boxer loading his gloves is irrelevant. He deliberately and knowingly flouted the laws of the game to the direct benefit of his team. The only thing stopping this act from joining Diego Maradona's Hand of God in eternal infamy is that this controversial goal took place in a playoff and the other in a World Cup quarterfinal.

Henry likes to portray himself as a moralist, an upholder of fair play and good sportsmanship. But when crunch time came, the Barcelona striker lowered himself to back-alley tactics and cheated a brave Irish team.

All's fair in love and soccer, yet if there is any justice France will suffer the same fate it did at the 2002 World Cup – elimination in the group stage.

It is not often that I call for instant replay in soccer. There are simply too many borderline decisions and video footage would cause too much disruption to the flow of play. Yet how the Irish nation must have wished for such a system Wednesday night, as goalkeeper Shay Given and his colleagues surrounded the referee and could not believe that such a blatant infringement had not been spotted.

Incidents such as this are part of the reason why FIFA is so often accused of favoritism toward bigger nations, who draw larger audiences and create extra revenue if they appear in major tournaments.

Time and time again, crucial calls in critical matches have gone the way of the higher-profile team. Irish defender Richard Dunne hinted at foul play.

"It was ridiculous really and unfortunately it's what we thought was going to happen," Dunne said. "The World Cup is run by people who want to decide who gets there. Big teams get big decisions. The referee says he was 100 percent certain that Henry didn't handball it but Henry said to me that he did.

"It's not a difficult one to see. The linesman was in line with it. We deserved to win. We could have got a couple of goals but theirs knocked the stuffing out of us."

Conspiracy or not, the handball furor was a desperately disappointing end to what has been a thrilling World Cup qualifying campaign. Let us pray there are no more similar controversies when the tournament itself begins next June.

Yahoo! Sports' World Cup power rankings

1. Brazil – A class above other World Cup favorites.

2. Spain – Euro champs are looking to go all the way.

3. Germany – Will be ruthless and organized as ever.

4. Holland – Effortless stroll through qualifying.

5. Ivory Coast – The pick of the African teams.

6. Italy – Recovered from Confederations Cup disaster.

7. England – Needs its big stars at full fitness.

8. Portugal – Scraped through. Now Ronaldo must step up.

9. Argentina – Not at its best under Maradona.

10. France – Lucky to qualify. Needs big improvement.

11. Denmark – Quality side must show big-game mentality.

12. Cameroon – Tough and skilful and capable of a deep run.

13. Ghana – Confident team capable of beating anyone.

14. United States – Needs everyone fit, a good draw and more consistency.

15. Australia – Talented squad lacks some attacking firepower.

16. South Africa – Will have home advantage and an easy draw.

17. Serbia – Point to prove on the biggest stage.

18. Chile – Classy outfit but untested outside South America.

19. Paraguay – Lost momentum toward the end of qualifying.

20. Greece – Great defense but won't score enough.

21. Slovakia – Had a great campaign and an emerging force.

22. Mexico – Not good enough away from home.

23. Slovenia – Determined side that never gives up.

24. Switzerland – Came through a weak group.

25. Uruguay – Edged past Costa Rica in playoff.

26. Nigeria – Weakest of the African qualifiers.

27. Japan – Limited team lacks creative spark.

28. South Korea – Not good enough at this level.

29. Honduras – Inexperienced but will give it a go.

30. Algeria – Overcame Egypt in an emotional playoff.

31. New Zealand – Superb effort to reach finals.

32. North Korea – Expect some heavy defeats.

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