Nov 202009

Welcome to another edition of Groan in Brief, the weekly look at the world of football in bullet point form. Today, we tackle the Worst Handball Ever in History And Time Itself ™, and the curiosity of Egypt’s continued absence from the grandest stage of international football.

‘That’ handball

Whenever the media decide to jump on a story, what transpires is the most unsightly of feeding frenzies, each reporter seeking to trump the last. It all started with basic criticism of Henry, moving on to how harsh it was on Ireland. Before long came the demands for a replay, Henry to be fined, Henry to be banned for a match, and now, thanks to Henry Winter, a ban for the entire World Cup.

Sorry, but you can’t make up rules on the spot, no matter how outraged the press get.

And where would it end? What if Henry had appealed for a throw in that he knew wasn’t his, and that led to the winning goal? Would he still have been castigated? What is the real difference?

It is hard to know sometimes what the media consider to be vile in football – some dives lead to outrage, some are ‘clever play’. Tactical fouls can be negative, or intelligent. Handballs can be accidental, or the worst sin known to man. And all while claiming referees are ruining the game with their inconsistency.

Blaming the referee

Your team is drawing 1-1 with ten minutes to play. In a frantic ending, the following happens:

a) Your star striker is sent through one on one with the keeper. The striker rounds the keeper, but his touch is too heavy and an open goal is missed from a tight angle.

b) Your left winger gets in behind the defence, cuts inside, and approaches the goal from an angle. He then shoots straight at the onrushing keeper, failing to notice his teammate in the centre of the box, screaming for a square pass and a tap-in.

c) Your right winger whips in a magnificent low cross that evades defence and keeper, and arrows towards your two players on the back post. The first is in an offside position having been slow to track back after the first attempt at a cross had been blocked. The second, standing behind him, has a tap-in. The first instinctively buries the chance, but is flagged and the goal disallowed.

d) Your midfielder bursts into a crowded box, and appears to be clipped by an opposing defender. Despite being able to stay on his feet, he collapses to the turf, but an unsighted referee fails to give the penalty.

The match ends 1-1. Who is blamed for your team not taking home all three points? The striker, for his heavy touch? The winger, for his selfishness and lack of vision? The offside forward?

Of course not. It is always the referee’s fault, even though there would be no guarantee that the penalty would have been scored. It does not matter how many mistakes are made by players, if the referee makes one (and he is as human as the rest of us), all blame can be shifted.

And we wonder why refereeing numbers are dropping.


In recent times, Egypt have been the dominant force in African football, winning three out of the last six African Nations Cups, including the most recent two. They are again amongst the favourites when the tournament kicks off in January.

So why do they keep making such a monumental mess of qualifying for World Cups? They have not played on the biggest stage since 1990, while other African sides have lit up the tournament in the subsequent twenty years.

Twice in that time, they have been African champions in the same year as World Cups they’ve failed to reach. The first of those was 1998, when they were humbled in World Cup qualifying by Tunisia and, most shockingly, Liberia, who recorded their only win of the group against the continental champions.

The situation was repeated in 2006. Again, Egypt won the ACN, impressively beating the Ivory Coast in the group stage and again in the final. Yet they lost home and away to the same opponents in the World Cup qualifying, and added to their woe with a dismal loss in Libya to finish third in the group.

They didn’t even reach the final round of qualifying in 1994, while Senegal and Morocco kept them out of the 2002 tournament. This year, Algeria have denied them.

It is an incredible statistic that such a force of African football has failed so dismally to show the world their talents. When we think of strong African nations, we think of those who have impressed in World Cups – the likes of Nigeria, or more recently Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Egypt should be amongst them.

And that’s it for this week’s Groan in Brief. Feel free to add your thoughts and I’ll be back with an preview of Arsenal’s trip to Sunderland later.

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