Don't be so quick to judge Henry
Thierry Henry admits he handled the ball before assisting on France's winning goal
France is headed back to the World Cup while Ireland was eliminated Wednesday
Henry is not the cheating type, and he may have had no choice given the situation
This one's easy. Thierry Henry is a cheat. He helped France cheat its way to the 2010 World Cup by intentionally handling the ball to control it before crossing it for William Gallas to score les Bleus' equalizer in extra time against Ireland on Wednesday (RECAP).
The Swedish referee, Martin Hansson, failed to spot the infraction and Henry did nothing to suggest he had handled the ball. That goal proved decisive, given that France had won the first leg at Croke Park in Dublin last Saturday.
Open and shut? Logically, yes. Ireland was screwed, plain and simple. We may never know what would have happened if the goal had not stood and if the game had gone to penalty kicks. But in many ways, it doesn't matter. It should never have reached the point because Gallas' goal should have been disallowed.
So let the (metaphorical) crucifixion begin. Except it's not that simple. There is an uncomfortable question lurking over all this. What would you have done if you were in Henry's situation? The ball comes in, it strikes your hand (the first one was, possibly, unintentional), you instinctively handle it again to control it and put the cross in.
Gallas scores. You're going to the World Cup. Your teammates celebrate. Is that when you're supposed to go to the referee to tell him you've cheated? The rules say "yes." (Or, rather, they say you shouldn't have done it in the first place, but let's say it was so instinctive that you didn't realize what was happening until after the fact.) You should come clean.
But how many of us have the strength of character to do it? How many would raise their hand and risk nullifying two years of hard work? How many would take it upon themselves to, most probably, get Raymond Domenech, the France boss, fired? (Which is what would have happened if France had been knocked out). How many would deny themselves and their teammates the chance to play on the biggest stage in all of sports?
If you are one of those who would have been strong enough to admit the cheating, then "Bravo!" You are a bigger man than Henry. But the fact of the matter is that he was human, terrifyingly human. He said nothing.
After the game, Henry sat on the Stade de France pitch talking to Richard Dunne, the Irish defender. We don't know what was said, but Henry seemed genuinely crestfallen. I've had the opportunity to spend a little time with him and I like to think he told Dunne what had happened and that he was genuinely sorry that Ireland won't be making it to the World Cup.
Those words may or may not have helped Dunne and his teammates feel better (probably not). But they do, at least in my mind, show that Henry is not just a craven cheat. A cheat would have ignored his fallen opponents after the game, he would have been careful to bask in the celebrations and then skulk off into the darkness, avoiding the enormity of what he did. Henry isn't like that.
But, alas, he is human. And, faced with temptation, he gave in. I'd like to say that things even themselves out over time, that there is some kind of global karma that will ensure that Henry ends up on the receiving end of such misdeeds sometime soon. But, in fact, that's not how the game (or life) works. Things are unfair. They do not even themselves out.
Kudos to Slovenia, a country of just more than 2 million people, which somehow managed to qualify for the World Cup by beating Russia 1-0. This kind of stuff is simply not supposed to happen in this day and age. Little nations do occasionally qualify for big events, but it's usually on the back of some kind of individual superstar carrying them through.
With all due respect, you won't find too many superstars here. Sami Handanovic is a solid goalkeeper at a mid-table Serie A club. The back four is made up of workmanlike guys at average teams in Germany, France and Belgium. Robert Koren, the midfield anchor, plays in the English Championship. Milivoje Novakovic has been a consistent goal-scorer in the Bundesliga for FC Köln and none other than José Mourinho has forecast a great future for Rene Krhin (though he is just 19 and has started just one Serie A game thus far), but that's about it.
No, Slovenia's achievement was all about self-belief, teamwork, great coaching, a modicum of luck and the idea that anything can happen. It will be hard to root against the Slovenians in South Africa.
So what's next for Guus Hiddink? With Russia out, the Dutchman will no doubt be popular once again among struggling clubs.
Sponsors and TV companies, have no fear! Cristiano Ronaldo will be going to the next World Cup (well, unless he gets injured again). With Ronaldo, Portugal is a contender. Without him, it's what we saw: a team that struggles to overcome Bosnia.