The final round of World Cup qualifiers concluded yesterday evening and it was a mixed night for the Arsenal players on display.
William Gallas helped France qualify by scoring the decisive goal in their 1-1 extra-time draw with Ireland, heading home from one yard out in characteristic fashion after ex-Arsenal captain Thierry Henry’s clear handball. Bacary Sagna also featured for France and although a host of other French Arsenal players did not play the likes of Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby and Gael Clichy will have been delighted with the result. As was I, despite the manner in which it was achieved.
The big shock of the night was Andrey Arshavin and Russia missing out on the trip to South Africa after a 1-0 loss to Slovenia. For once Guus Hiddink’s magic touch deserted him as the Russians put in a rather disjointed performance in their quest for a spot at the World Cup. Slovenia were probably deserved winners over the two legs however it does not change the fact that I’m extremely disappointed that Arshavin won’t be able to play on the biggest stage of all. I just hope he can take out some of the frustration against Sunderland this weekend.
The other winners were Portugal and Greece who beat Bosnia and Ukraine respectively while Algeria completed a remarkable 1-0 win over Egypt in neutral Sudan. As much as I wanted the Egyptians to qualify – I would have rated their chances at making an impact on the tournament next year – for the Algerians to pick themselves up after the 2-0 loss in Cairo on Saturday and produce that result showed amazing character.
It would be irresponsible not to mention the handball by Henry so I thought I’d put in my two cents worth on the incident. My opinion is that although it was a clear handball and although it unfairly denied Ireland the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, the labeling of Henry and the French as cheats and the vitriol they have received on blogs and articles has way off the mark.
What Henry did was instinctive and reactive and on slow motion looks to be very intentional. But the only reason everyone is talking about it is because the referee failed to penalise it and because it had such a decisive impact on the outcome of the match. France and Henry didn’t intentionally “cheat” to win through to South Africa, they made the most of a poor refereeing decision and in my eyes there’s nothing more to it. If the referee had failed to notice one of Robbie Keane’s handballs earlier in the game and the Irish had scored the reaction would have been exactly the same, so for me it comes down to the referee making the wrong decision and not the intentions or lack of honesty by the offending player or team.
A mate of mine at work has said that he hopes France gets thrashed in South Africa or gets knocked out in unjust circumstances – but I just can’t share his point of view. This wasn’t a premeditated attempt by the French to cheat Ireland out the game, nor was it a conspiracy against Ireland to prevent them from qualifying for the finals. It was a refereeing error, plain and simple, a similar sort of error that cost Russia against Slovenia in the incident where Alexandr Kerzakhov was wrongly sent off.
I think if this incident says anything it’s that the introduction of video technology at the highest level of football has become essential. For a team to have four years of hard work and effort taken away from them by one moment of poor refereeing is unbelievably unfair and it really needs to change. The stakes are just too high nowadays when it comes to the very highest level of the sport and I really believe it’s time for something to be done.
Moving away from the World Cup shenanigans and onto Arsenal matters now and I’m happy to announce that Eduardo has signed a new long-term contract with the club. It’s a bit of a feel-good story this with the club repaying him for his “courage, bravery and committment” in returning from his awful leg break and Eduardo repaying the faith shown in him by Arsenal by committing to the club. Personally I’m delighted and with Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner both out he has a wonderful opportunity to start paying the club in the short-term with his contribution on the pitch.
Added to that great news is the very good news that Kieran Gibbs’ injury that he picked up playing for England U21 has turned out to be less of a problem than first expected. Results of the X-Ray on his foot have revealed severe bruising rather than a fracture and although he is likely to miss the game with Sunderland he should be back for Chelsea a week later.
Anyway that’s really it for today’s post. I’ll leave you with a video of Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Bacary Sagna and Andrey Arshavin dressed in giant furry animal suits to raise money for charity. Cheers!
Have your say on the World Cup, Henry’s handball, Eduardo’s contract, Gibbs’ foot or furry animals by leaving a comment.