France 0, Uruguay 0 but at least now we know: There is a footballing god. And he has a delicious sense of irony
FRANCE’S dreadful 0-0 draw against Uruguay proved just one thing. There is a footballing God. And He has an acute sense of irony.
The second game of the World Cup at Green Point in Cape Town – another great stadium, another great surface – did little to warm the heart of the 64,000 fans.
But there was a delicious moment late in the game when Thierry Henry was denied a penalty for handball. Yes, that’s the Hand of Gaul Henry, who used his arm like a basketball player to put the Republic of Ireland out of this World Cup.
As an Arsenal fan, that moment ruined a hero for me, I dubbed it the Hand of Frog which obviously I'd never repeat. It's rude. But as a third-generation Irishman I was furious.
Was it only last November? The party-loving Irish would have brought so much to this tournament but with 17 minutes to go in the second leg of the qualifying play-off, there was Henry, controlling the ball with his arm and playing it across goal for William Gallas to equalise for the home side in Paris.
The arguments, the appeals to FIFA, the demands for a replay, a petition of a million Irishman in a paddy. They even asked at parliamentary level if they could be the 33rd side at South Africa 2010.
But FIFA, as always, refused to do what the public demanded, what justice demanded. France were through after winning at Croke Park. And Henry? He admitted culpability immediately afterwards and apologised... but was never given any kind of punishment.
At the very least, video evidence should have been used to ban him from the first couple of games of this tournament for deliberate hand-ball.
But nothing happened. And here's the wonderful irony. After an interminable 81 minutes, Uruguay substitute Nicolas Lodeiro was sent off. Already booked, his studs-up challenge on Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna left the referee with no choice.
That opened the game up for the French and in the 88th minute their chance to end this stultifying stale mate appeared to have dawned. Henry picked up the ball on the far post and Mauricio Victorino used his hand to keep the ball and the 32-year-old at bay. But Japanese referee Nishimura saw nothing. Just as Swedish whistler Hanssen saw nothing last November.
And that was it. Henry had a late free-kick buthis aura is gone. It bobbled off the wall. The Jabulani ball is doing nobody any favours. Diego Forlan had the best chance for Uruguay but it ballooned wide, just as every free-kick on day one did.
Gavin Hunt, the watching Supersports United manager who has won the last three South African Premier League titles, told me: “We’ve played with the World Cup ball for six months. I told them it was too light, far too light. It bobbles, it swerves. I told them we prefer the heavier Mitre ball, especially at altitude. But by then it was too late, they were in production.”
A balls-up then. And a dull draw in Cape Town after the excitement of the opening 1-1 deadlock between the hosts and Mexico at Soccer City. But Hunt was smiling for once: “This is a good result for South Africa. I can’t see either of those sides presenting any real problems for Carlos Alberto Parreira.”
In summary then, 162,000 fans, mostly vuvuzela-blowing South Africans, witnessed a flawless opening ceremony and two draws. No bloodbaths in evidence, no earthquakes, muggings or deadly snakes. Just a few traffic jams and handbags being thrown in the second half of the Green Point grind. Not a bad opening day for the nation they said could never host a World Cup.