No hand up from FIFA

NOT so much a new chapter in the ‘Hand of Gaul’ saga, more like a postscript.

The Republic of Ireland will not be accommodated as a 33rd team in the World Cup finals this summer – and nor did the FAI ever seriously believe that they would.

Yesterday’s revelation by FIFA President Sepp Blatter that the FAI had asked for Ireland to be included in the finals – as compensation for the nature of France’s decisive goal in the World Cup play-off – might have grabbed plenty of headlines but, in proposing the idea at a meeting in Zurich last Friday, the FAI were conscious that they were making it more in hope than expectation, anxious that they should leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice.

In fact, in their written submission to FIFA preceding the meeting, the FAI had not even mentioned the idea of filling an extra berth at next summer’s finals in South Africa, instead concentrating on issues designed to prevent incidents such as the controversial French goal in Paris from occurring again.

Nor, when they actually met with FIFA last Friday, did the FAI propose any kind of mechanism for accommodating an extra team in the World Cup finals in South Africa.

In a statement issued in response to Sepp Blatter’s comments yesterday, the FAI said: “A lot was discussed at the meeting and at one stage the FAI asked if Ireland could be accommodated into the World Cup 2010.

“Other suggestions were also made to mitigate against further occurrences of such incidents, including the use of additional goal line assistant referees for FIFA international matches, further use of video technology for matches at the highest level, stronger provisions to discourage players from engaging in such blatant breaches of the Laws of the Game and provisions to strengthen referee selection for such important matches.”

While the FAI is clearly hoping to build up as much credit in the bank as possible with the world governing body, it has denied reports that it specifically sought compensation in the form of being seeded for the qualifying draw for the 2014 finals.

Blatter revealed details of the meeting with the FAI at the opening of the Soccerex business conference in Johannesburg yesterday.

Said the FIFA President: “We received a delegation from Ireland at FIFA and they were naturally absolutely unhappy at what has happened. They know that match cannot be replayed and the decision of the referee is final.

“Naturally, they have not asked for any sanctions to be given against any player or the referee but they have asked, very humbly, ‘Can’t we be team number 33 at the World Cup?’ They asked for that, really.

“I will bring it to the attention of the Executive Committee but if we do that we will also have to bring in Costa Rica.”

(The Costa Ricans also feel they were ruled out of the finals unfairly by an offside goal scored by Uruguay).

The matter will be up for mention at FIFA’s emergency meeting of the Executive Committee in South Africa today but the FAI will not be holding their breath in anticipation of a shock outcome in their favour.

However, along with the rest of football, they will be closely studying the body’s deliberations on the possibility of fielding additional referees and, of special note in Ireland, on possible changes to the existing play-off system under which the team playing at home in the second leg is at a clear advantage. Blatter yesterday floated the idea of employing additional match officials, saying: “There is a lack of discipline and respect in the game by the players because they are cheating. This is human beings trying to get an advantage and this is not good and we have to fight against that.

“It’s possible we will make additional officials for the World Cup but we have to see if it is feasible or realistic.’’

Despite the furore surrounding Ireland’s World Cup exit, Blatter remains opposed to the introduction of technology, suggested it would be too time consuming.

“With technology, you have to stop a match. You have a look at cameras. Now I think there should be some additional (assistants), if they can see or not see,’’ Blatter said.

“We have to maintain the human face of football and not go into technology. Perhaps if there had been somebody behind (the goal) he could have seen the (handball) situation in the case of France-Ireland.

“When the FIFA president is in the chair of the IFAB (International Board), then we will see if, for the World Cup, we will have additional officials. We must do something for match control.”

On play-off games, the FIFA President said: “On one match it is decided if you are in or out and this is not the spirit behind this World Cup. We must have a look at this.”

More immediately, the FAI will be hoping for a change of heart from UEFA on this very issue. As revealed in this newspaper last week, European football’s governing body has already decided not only to seed the play-offs for the 2012 European Championship qualifiers but to guarantee that the seeded teams will be at home in the second legs.

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney last week wrote to UEFA to express his concern about the plan and, as of yesterday, was still awaiting a response.


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