Friday, November 20, 2009

Should Ireland Get a Replay?

The anger seems to be building.

France won a spot in the World Cup at Ireland's expense in extra time Wednesday night on the strength of a goal set up by a player, Thierry Henry, who handled the ball -- twice -- before actually using his feet to pass it to William Gallas, who scored.

Ireland is calling on France and Fifa for a replay. Another match. Which would be nice. But, for better or (in this case) worse, this is not how soccer works.

Soccer prides itself on uninterrupted play. Fans of American sports often are mocked, around the world, for putting up with all the stoppages of play in their games. American football, in particular.

Some of the sports stoppages in the U.S. are television-driven. Some of them are just part of the games. And others, increasingly, are made to allow electronic review of critical calls. To get them right, or as close as possible to "right" as the technology will allow.

It seems clear that Ireland would have benefited greatly by even the most primitive video-replay technology. The video of the key moment appears to have been taken down all over the web by the rights holders, but there seems universal agreement from those who saw TV of the match that Henry handled the ball twice -- and the referee just missed it.

This would not have happened in an American football game. A coach would have called for a replay, the game would have been stopped and various cameras would have caught Henry in the act, which the referee would have seen, and reversed himself. The goal would have been disallowed, Henry may have been assessed a yellow card and the Irish given the ball. And, presumably, eventually someone would have won the match ... fairly.

But ...

But ...

Is soccer ready for instant replay? Will it allow "the beautiful game" to be held up while the officials go to the video, American-style?

Only for goals? How about for offsides (now there's a can of worms)? To the legalistic American mind, soccer is maddening in its inability even to get right such simple calls as "who gets this throw-in?" Even in the biggest matches, linesmen get that "possession" wrong a dozen times, on throw-ins.

Soccer and quasi-"instant" replay? We don't see that happening any time soon. It goes too much against the grain of the game, and its traditions. It is a game that seems to have built in a certain, shall we say, "elasticity" when it comes to rules.Everyone knows it and they allow everything from kiddie games to World Cup matches ("Hand of God", anyone?) to be decided by blatantly illegal plays that go unseen by referees.

Also, bringing technology to all levels of World Cup qualifying might not be possible. Think of all the early matches in the underdeveloped parts of the world that aren't even televised. When and where, then, does Fifa start using viedo-replay? All the time, in Europe? In the last qualifying stage in Africa?

There are basic technical problems.

But, ultimately, soccer just allows X amount of stuff to go on. You either accept the game in its entirety -- and that means the more-than-occasional horrific, game-changing call -- or you don't have the game you have now. Can't have it both ways.

So, the Irish have a right to be angry and upset. But as coaches and athletes have been saying, of late, "it is what it is" ... which is jockspeak for "can't do anything about it now."

There will be no replay. Not saying that's right. But that's the soccer way.
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