The 32 countries in the World Cup soccer tournament were decided yesterday, and the French cheated their way in. I was planning to hold off on blogging about the field until the World Cup draw was held on Dec. 4, but this is too outrageous. Specifically, French striker Thierry Henry handled the ball while setting up the winning goal in the overtime period of France’s playoff game with Ireland. The goal should have been disallowed, but incredibly, the Swedish officiating crew failed to see Henry’s infraction. As a result, the Irish are out of next year’s party, and the French are in. Here’s the video:


Of course, you don’t really need video evidence, because Henry admitted to the deed shortly after the game, saying that it was the referee’s job to catch it. That’s correct, but nothing was stopping Henry from going to the ref immediately afterward with a confession and requesting the goal be taken off the scoreboard, like Daniele de Rossi did in an Italian league game a few years back. If Henry had done that, he would have been a hero for his fair play. (Plus, the French still might have won the game on penalty kicks.) Henry has been one of the best goal-scorers of this decade, he’s personally campaigned against racism in European soccer, and he’s generally behaved himself well as a superstar. All that’s gone now. Now he’s just a cheat. Un tricheur, as the French would say.

This is bad, not only because these big soccer tournaments tend to be more fun when the Irish are involved. The French are more talented, but they’ve underachieved for the last four years thanks to mismanagement by their coach. Now they get in at the expense of a hard-working squad whose Italian coach rescued them when they were demoralized. This Ireland team would have been a great feel-good story, and now they’ve been well and truly screwed. Most sports teams, even if they’re cheated out of a championship, can come back the next year and try again. The Irish have to wait until 2014. File this one under Proof That There’s No Justice in the World. Usually the Germans play the role of the team that everybody loves to hate at international soccer tournaments. For World Cup 2010, the French richly deserve to take their spot.

The fallout has been swift. The Irish team are appealing for a replay, backed by the country’s government. The French press and former French players are expressing shame. Even though they’ve got no dog in this hunt, the Swedes are blasting their own officials. This one’s going to linger.