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It's Time For The Players To Rescue Football

Thursday 23rd June 2011
Hand of God? More like hand of a cheat!

Pride, commitment and passion . . . just some of the words that I would associate with football.

Or that I would like to.

Recently, I have begun more than ever to question the players in and around the game. Is Luis Suarez a hero or a villain? Should France have replayed the game against Ireland, having cheated them of a place at the World Cup? Was German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer right to continue playing when he knew Frank Lampard's shot clearly crossed the line last summer?

And then there was Uruguay vs Ghana . . .

With a place in the 2010 World Cup final four at stake, their last eight game was on tenterhooks as the two teams went into extra-time locked at 1-1. But no-one could have imagined how the game ended. Ghana's Dominic Adiyiah headed goalwards, the ball sailed past the helpless Uruguayan keeper and was on course to hit the net when then-Ajax striker Suarez used his hands to palm away the ball. Red card to Suarez and a penalty to Ghana. The whole of Africa (and me) willed Asamoah Gyan to step up and smash the ball into the back of the net. The reality was that Gyan thundered the spot kick against the bar.

But was it right that Ghana even had to score the penalty to proceed? The ball was going to cross the line before Suarez intervened. Why shouldn't

football have followed the lead of rugby union – in which a penalty try can be awarded after foul play prevents a certain score – and awarded Ghana's goal, securing their progression? To rub salt into an already gaping wound, of course, Uruguay went on to win in the penalty shoot-out.

Hero Or Villian?

So Suarez, although a national hero in Uruguayan eyes, was a cheat and a disgrace to the rest of the world. Yet all he received from FIFA was a one-game ban. How is that fair when you consider Rio Ferdinand sat out eight months – deemed guilty by the suspicions raised by missing a drugs test.

A few days before Suarez and Uruguay's great escape, of course, England vs Germany threw up a seemingly different controversy.

When Frank Lampard lifted a glorious shot over the top of German goalkeeper Neuer, which hit the crossbar and landed over the line before bouncing out, England fans and players erupted.

A few seconds later, they erupted again but for the wrong reasons when referee Jorge Larrionda waved play on.

Goal or no goal you decide

England fan Alex Fletcher recalls: “My first thought was that it was a goal and he had given the goal. I even celebrated it. I couldn't believe the decision. It goes to prove that what goes around comes around because of 1966 final. ”

But I don't buy into karma. Two wrongs don't make a right in my book. Unlike the relatively marginal decision which Geoff Hurst benefitted from during English football's greatest day, Neuer and his back four must have seen the ball clearly cross the line in Blomfoentain, especially Neuer. Yet he continued like nothing had happened. Worse still, Neuer barely received a word of criticism afterwards.

The same went for then-Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll after he fumbled Pedro Mendes's shot for Tottenham at Old Trafford and, worse even than Neuer, jumped back across his goalline to scoop the ball out before acting the incident.

Even Diego Maradona's “Hand of God” is somehow seen as fair game by some – a pay-off for his talent. But what people fail to recognise is that arguably the biggest individual victim of Maradona's handball was the very person charged with overseeing fair play.

As qualified referee Jamie Baker says: “We need help from the players in the game. I think referees are unfairly treated. If we make a bad decision we are slated for it, yet you must remember we are human beings; we do make mistakes from time to time.”

And, speaking of fairness, where was it when Thierry Henry escaped ANY sanction by FIFA for the blatant handball which earned France a place at the 2010 World Cup and dashed play-off opponents Ireland's dreams.

Should Henry have been punished?

At least karma would exact its own justice last summer, with the French imploding in South Africa. As Irish fan Aaron McLoughlin says: “A replay of the match would have been fair. But it was nice to see how well France did a the World Cup . . .” But FIFA'S failure to punish Henry was pitiful nonetheless.

It's high time FIFA took a step back and looked at the game as a whole, in which refereeing mistakes – but, more depressingly, players' exploitation of them – make for a cheats charter.

The time is right for goal-line technology and more officials, but -  most importantly -  for FIFA to bring some morality back into footbalI.
Jamie Barwick

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