What if Thierry Henry’s handball had been caught? Sam Geoghegan wonders what might have been for the Irish World Cup campaign
Wednesday 18th November, 2009. Ireland has achieved the unthinkable and improbable by beating France 1-0 in Paris, thanks to Robbie Keane’s first half strike…
It seemed a World Cup summer was about to brighten up the lives of a downtrodden and depressed nation until the officials missed the blatant handball by Thierry Henry that led to William Gallas’ winning goal. Now, let us imagine that the referee made the right call, that extra time finished with the sides tied, and the momentum inspired Ireland to win on penalties and qualify for South Africa 2010.
Giovanni Trapatonni has many decisions. He has roughly six weeks to decide on the final 23 players he chooses to represent Ireland at their fourth World Cup. To be realistic, the ‘will he, won’t he’ Stephen Ireland affair would dominate the headlines, but it is quite clear that Ireland won’t return to the international fray. Trapatonni’s reluctance to include Andy Reid will also influence who he picks for midfield. Trap’s settled defence of Given; O’Shea, Dunne, St.Ledger and Kilbane will be assured of starting places while Steve Finnan, Paul McShane and Stephen Kelly would complete the defensive selections of the Italian.
The midfield almost picks itself: Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews start through the middle, while Manchester United’s Darron Gibson and the injury plagued-yet-creative Steven Reid make the squad. Duff, Lawrence, McGeady and Stephen Hunt will battle it out for the two starting positions on the wings. Captain Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle lead the line for Ireland, with Caleb Folan, Shane Long, and Doyle’s Wolves teammate Andy Keogh making up the final places of the squad.
Drawn in Ireland’s group are hosts South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico. First up for the boys in green are Uruguay. on the first day of the World Cup. If Trapatonni can inspire such performances as he did against world champions Italy and France, then teams like Uruguay and the other two in the group must be overcome. Whelan and Andrews are crucial clogs of the puzzle for this game to disrupt the guile and industry of the Uruguayans. A victory in this match propels us into our next game against Mexico six days later at Polokwane. A similar team to Uruguay yet more difficult to break down, a draw in this match should leave the Irish in a fantastic position to qualify out of the group with four points from six. South Africa’s home support inspires their team to avoid defeat in their opening matches, which would leave Ireland on top of the group with one game to go. A draw against the hosts earns Trap’s men qualification, and top spot in Group A.
South Korea will be the probable opponents in the Round of 16, finishing second in a group involving Argentina, Nigeria and Greece. A team similar in style to Ireland – organised yet lacking in creativity – the imaginative players must start to break down the Koreans. Steven Reid, Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady are the players Trap should use at the expense of Lawrence, Andrews and Hunt. Unfortunately, I foresee the quarter-final stage to be a hurdle too far. The auld enemy, England will be too strong to overcome: Wayne Rooney and company should dispose of us, with Ferdinand and Terry easily handling Keane and Doyle. A quarter-final elimination would be something to be proud of for a country of our size, though losing to the English wouldn’t be an exhilarating sensation.
It’s a dream about Ireland at the World Cup, that’s all – but something that might have occurred if FIFA had implemented video refereeing. A World Cup summer is still a month of football, but a tournament with Ireland adds to the excitement. So, this nation will watch as neutrals – or support whoever is playing France (and England). I can’t wait.