DUBLIN – Ever since Thierry Henry’s unpunished hand ball helped deny Ireland its spot on soccer’s grandest stage, Ireland has been awaiting its moment of retribution – and is cheering every misstep as France stumbles to the brink of World Cup failure.
Thursday night’s 2-0 victory by Mexico over the French inspired Dubliners to don sombreros, down tequila shots and mull whether it’s possible to construct a few Henry pinatas in time for France’s final group match Tuesday against the World Cup hosts, South Africa.
Even commentators for the Irish state broadcasters RTE covering the France-Mexico match got in the mood, wearing their own sombreros – and wondering aloud why Ireland hadn’t managed to defeat the disorganized French during last November’s infamous home-and-away playoff.
Ireland lost 2-1 on aggregate when Henry double-slapped a ball on the edge of Ireland’s penalty area before crossing it to teammate William Gallas, whose extra-time goal was allowed to stand because the referee – unlike millions watching slow-motion replays worldwide – didn’t see the foul.
Ireland might have lost anyway in the looming penalty shootout, but the blown call left analysts worldwide complaining the Irish had been cheated.
The Football Association of Ireland appealed in vain for FIFA to accept Ireland as the 33rd World Cup entrant, a notion that caused FIFA president Sepp Blatter to laugh out loud at a news conference dismissing the idea. Now the Irish are hoping for the last laugh, although France retains a slim chance of reaching the next round if everything falls right Tuesday.
“We had our sombreros out last night. On Tuesday we’ll be blowing our vuvuzelas in support of the South Africans,” said out-of-work Dublin construction worker Paddy McCafferty, who was out collecting the morning newspapers – at 2 p.m. – after celebrating France’s defeat until dawn.
A grassroots movement, www.anyonebutfrance.ie, has launched a Facebook site along with a promotion offering 5 euros off restaurant meals in Ireland every time a French opponent scores a goal. Its motto: “Promoting hands-free football at World Cup 2010.”
British electronics chain Currys is advertising a discount on TV purchases when France crashes out. Its catch phrase: “When the French lose, the Irish win.”
Pizza Hut in Ireland is also offering 350 free pizzas every time a French opponent scores. FIFA this week criticized that ad campaign, featuring the slogan “Pizzas 1, France 0,” as unsportsmanlike.
Ireland’s online chat rooms were abuzz Friday, with posters alternately gloating over France’s misfortune and expressing frustration that the Irish couldn’t finish off the French themselves.
Ireland enjoyed breakout success in the 1990s but hasn’t qualified for the finals of an international tournament since World Cup 2002.