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.

Nov 112009

Welcome to the first ‘Groan in Brief’, a look at recent events that may or may not have anything to do with Arsenal – the focus of these pieces will be on any current football stories that I feel like commenting on. Expect the FA, FIFA, UEFA and Jamie Redknapp to be regular targets of ridicule.

The international break seems like a good time to start, given that there’s no Arsenal news filtering through, at least until the matches themselves leave the whole squad crippled, so let’s get on with it.

Liverpool’s plight

I’m glad Rafa Benitez is finally getting some stick from the ever-patient Liverpool fans. Admirable though it is to back your manager through thick and thin, it seems highly unfair that the owners face the music every time the team struggles. Benitez has made some good signings (even at the price, Torres was worthwhile, while Benayoun is probably one of the best buys of recent years), but has also a catalogue of shockers, and continually makes frankly odd managerial decisions (such as the reluctance to give the aforementioned Benayoun the role he deserves).

You’ll struggle to find a non-Liverpool fan who thinks Benitez is capable of bringing Liverpool their first Premiership title, which you can’t say about any of the other three ‘Big Four’ managers. There’s no doubting his ability in the big matches, so they’ll always be dangerous in cups and in Europe, but is it any coincidence that their solitary win from the last nine games was against United? That doesn’t win leagues. Never has, never will.

As for the injury argument, everyone gets them. We missed Eduardo and Rosicky for the whole of last season, and Cesc for a large chunk of it. And that scratches the surface of our list. Chelsea missed Essien and Joe Cole, for United read Hargreaves and Scholes.

Liverpool’s trouble is that they are so reliant on Torres that when he gets injured they are badly exposed, and because Benitez clearly has no faith in any other striker at the club, Torres is continually forced to play while semi-fit. Any wonder he’s crocked so often?

This isn’t simply a jab at Liverpool. They have history, and patient fans. I have no doubt they’ll continue to win cups competitions. But if they want to win the league, something has to change.


Ah, this old subject, once again in the news because David Ngog fell over a stray air pocket and won a penalty that earned Liverpool a point against Birmingham on Monday. In a way, I feel sorry for the guy. Yes, it was an awful dive, and no, he shouldn’t have done it, but it seems he’s being singled out, Eduardo-style, as the scapegoat of a wider problem.

The whole of Europe was up in arms at Eduardo’s dive earlier in the season, and this weekend gave us a reminder of that incident. Only it wasn’t Ngog’s dive that brought the images flashing back, it was Darren Bent’s for Sunderland. You see, Eduardo’s crime was going down anticipating a foul from the keeper that never came, and Bent did precisely the same thing on Saturday. By the time Gomes finally clipped him, he was already horizontal.

For the sake of their credibility, I was hoping the MoTD pundits would at least pick up on it, and had a brief moment of hope when Shearer pointed out that Bent was already going down when contact was made. But in the next sentence, Mr Bland stated that ‘he deserved the penalty anyway because the keeper was rushing out so quickly’. Eh? This is the same Shearer who joined the voices of condemnation over Eduardo’s identical actions.

It makes a mockery of their demand that referees show consistency in their decisions when they themselves cannot do the same for their analysis, despite plentiful time and infinite replays.

World Cup playoffs

Speaking of making a mockery of things, how come the parameters for World Cup qualification were not set in stone before the first ball was kicked? How was it allowed that FIFA made the decision to seed the playoffs so late that they already know who was likely to be in them?

This international break might have been interesting if France and Portugal had squared off against each other for a place in the finals, but FIFA have done everything they can to ensure the major nations get through.

And spare a thought for the likes of Bosnia, who overachieved massively to get this far, but have had their chances greatly reduced by the carve up.

And that’s about it for today. Join me again for another brief look at the football world next week. It’ll be back to Arsenal tomorrow.