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33rd team plea an embarassment

Time for Ireland to move on

December 1, 2009
By Gareth Maher

No matter what happens in next summer's World Cup, there are bound to be images of Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland recycled again and again.

• Blatter: Irish ask for extra spot

Thierry Henry
GettyImagesThe Thierry Henry handball has brought the issue into sharper focus

Put simply: Controversy ignites debate. So television producers are bound to use the build-up to the finals in South Africa to remind the world of when the French striker tricked a Swedish referee and caused outrage across the globe.

When the footage is shown it will not be out of sympathy for Ireland, but merely as something to lead off with in a highlights reel. The harsh reality is that the football world has moved on from that night in Paris. Well... almost everyone has.

The FAI (Football Association of Ireland) stirred things up again this week when it was revealed by FIFA President Sepp Blatter that they had asked to be considered as the 33rd team in the 2010 World Cup.

As Blatter revealed this at a press conference, it was greeted with a chorus of laughter from the gathered media. Is this what Ireland have been reduced to? A worldwide laughing stock.

"They came to Fifa and naturally they were absolutely unhappy with what has happened," Blatter said in a disingenious tone.

"They agree that the match cannot be replayed because they know the laws of the game are 124 years old and the decision of the referee has always been final.

"They have asked very humbly 'Can't we be team number 33 in the World Cup?'. They have asked for that, really."

While the FAI's attempts to stand up for what is fair was laudable at the beginning, it is now just plain embarrasing. Just like a bad break-up, it is time for the dumped person to move on as things are never going to return to the way they once were.

Of course, the financial implications of not featuring in a World Cup are huge, but at some point pride must come into play as well as just accepting the defeat (no matter how hard that is to take).

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the aftermath from that incident in the Stade de France is that the achievement of Giovanni Trapattoni's team coming so close to clinching qualification has been largely ignored.

For those that may have forgotten the Steve Staunton era, it wasn't that long ago that Ireland were sliding down the FIFA rankings faster than an avalanche. It was not a pretty period for anyone connected to the Irish team and little hope was given for anyone to drag them out of the mess.

Trapattoni did it though. While his tactics came from a old covered manual of how the game should be played, they proved to be effective. Ireland were unbeaten in their qualifying group and pushed France all the way in their play-off - a huge turnaround in fortune in such a short period of time.

However, the positives from that qualifying campaign will be forever overshadowed by a handball incident and the FAI refusing to accept defeat. It is about time that Ireland moved on.

Gareth Maher covers Irish football for ESPN Soccernet. Check out his website to read more of his writing.