What if…Thierry Henry never handballed?


2009 is known in history for many landmark events – Global Recession, the release of Avatar, the death of Michael Jackson, Obama becomes the first ever African-American President of the United States, Somali Pirates attempt to hijack a cargo ship commanded by Captain Richard Phillips, Swine Flu, Miracle on the Hudson – suffice to say a lot happened in a world where Instagram didn’t exist yet and a 17 year old Neymar was was getting ready to make his debut for Santos in Brazil.


If you are Irish (or just an advocate of justice) – then you will also remember 2009 as the year that one of the greatest sporting travesties in history occurred which has gone down in infamy as one of the biggest sporting miscarriages of justice the world has ever seen.


Thierry Henry's handball a subject that will not go away


18th November 2009 – World Cup Playoff Leg 2 – Paris, France


After winning the game 1-0 on the night courtesy of a goal from #WeStreamFM Wonderkid Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Keane, Ireland went up against France in extra-time at Stade de France with the World Cup 2010 playoff tie all square at 1-1 on aggregate. Having lost the first leg in Dublin to a Nicolas Anelka finish, Ireland had exceeded all expectations in the second leg by not only holding the French scoreless on their own turf, but also by winning the game and bringing Les Bleus to extra-time as both teams fought for a place at World Cup 2010 in South Africa.


Ireland more than held their own until the 12th minute of extra-time when a free-kick whipped in by Florent Malouda was controversially controlled and handled by Thierry Henry at the back post, resulting in William Gallas heading home a winner to put the French through to the World Cup finals, sending Ireland home both empty handed and outraged at the official’s decision to allow the goal to stand. To this day, Irish fans are still incensed by the decision, unaided by the fact that Henry admitted to handling the ball after the game had finished and needless to say he probably hasn’t shown his face in an Irish pub since the infamous incident occurred.



“Born on a wave of tears, righteous indignation and flat Guinness, thousands of dejected Irish football fans were arriving home from Paris today to a country united in fury and mourning over its controversial ejection from the World Cup finals next summer.” The Guardian, November 2009.


Even by Euro 2016 this writer (left) wasn’t over it


But what if it never happened? What if Henry wasn’t in that exact place at that exact time, if William Gallas had stayed back like he should have or if Darren Gibson hadn’t committed the foul which resulted in Florent Malouda’s free-kick in the first place? What if none of it ever happened? There’s only one way to find out:


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World Cup 2010, South Africa



It’s June 2010 and the Irish team have just landed in Cape Town after qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 2002, immediately hit by a wave of humidity and strange horn type noises that Damien Duff misinterprets as some kind of wild animal unleashed by the local football contingent. “Vuvuzelas lads” says John O’Shea, although his Waterford (South of Ireland) accent makes it sound like he’s had one too many Gin & Tonics on the 14 hour flight over. Understandable considering he watched Shakira’s “Waka Waka” World Cup song on repeat for the entire duration of the flight, regretting that it was his former Man United team mate Gerard Pique who got in there before him.



The Irish have (fictionally) qualified for the World Cup for only the fourth time in their history, heroics of USA 94 and heartbreak of Japan & Korea 2002 firmly behind them. Hopes are high in the camp, particularly with France missing out on qualification. “Pity” thinks Richard Dunne, lovely bunch of lads they are especially your man up front.


“C’est un accident!”


Ireland have been drawn in a challenging but equally qualifiable group alongside the Netherlands, Nigeria and Australia who are spearheaded by a man the Irish FA once attempted to change allegiances due to his Irish heritage, Tim Cahill. Having said that they have also tried the same with Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Kevin Nolan in the past but to no avail (let’s not even mention the Declan Rice saga), however English Goalkeeper Andrew Lonergan finds himself in the final 23 man squad as 3rd choice keeper – I wonder should someone tell him he will pushing for the title with Liverpool in 10 years?



The Dutch are natural favourites to top the group, boasting the likes of Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder and Van Der Vaart in their ranks who in real life led them all the way to the final back in 2010. Nigeria will be no rollover especially with the power and pace of Obafemi Martins and Chinedu Obasi up front, not to mention the steel of Joseph Yobo and Jon Obi Mikel in their Central Defence/Midfield area. Can this mixed bag of Irish Premier League regulars and Championship misfits help Ireland exceed their best ever quarter final finish 20 years ago at Italia ’90? (#OleOle).


Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Man City), Colin Doyle (Birmingham), Andrew Lonergan (Preston)

Defenders: John O’Shea (Man Utd), Andy O’Brien (Newcastle), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Wolves), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Chris McCann (Burnley)

Midfielders: Glenn Whelan (Stoke), Keith Andrews (Birmingham), Steven Reid (Blackburn Rovers), Aiden McGeady (Celtic), Damien Duff (Fulham), Stephen Hunt (Hull City), Liam Lawrence (Stoke), Darren Gibson (Man Utd)

Forwards: Robbie Keane (Tottenham), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Leon Best (Newcastle), Shane Long (Reading)


Now this is 10 years ago…Seamus Coleman has just turned 21 years old and no-one knows he is the best right back in the world yet (yes I just said that); Shay Given is 34 and wishes he never left the bright lights of Newcastle, while James McCarthy isn’t even old enough to drink in South Africa. Ireland’s hopes will lie with Robbie Keane and Damien Duff again just as they did 8 years ago in Japan and South Korea.


Damien Duff reveals inspiration behind THAT celebration | SportsJOE.ie


Tuesday 15th June 2010 – Greenpoint Stadium, Cape Town.

Ireland vs Nigeria – World Cup 2010 Group G



It was Nigeria who started strongest, with early chances falling for both Obafemi Martins and Chinedu Obasi. The latter has actually signed for Barcelona within this FM universe so take from that what you will. After being previously caught in a tug of war between Man Utd and Chelsea Jon Obi Mikel is pulling the strings in midfield, but his Irish counterpart Glenn Whelan looks more than capable of handling him in the Ireland engine room.


Nigeria are starting to get their groove on when the unthinkable happens – a throw-in in the Ireland half leads so some quick passing from the Ireland team, before Keith Andrews threads a ball through to Robbie Keane whose finishing as always is unquestionable…GOAL FOR IRELAND!!!!!



Irish fans don’t know how to react – elation, apprehension, excitement and fear all come in a wave at once and even the vuvuzelas can’t drown out the celebrations despite the fact that we are only 9 minutes into this epic encounter. Fully not used to being ahead so early on and having to defend a lead (see Ireland vs France, Euro 2016 Quarter Final for further info) – can the boys in green hang on to claim a precious win against the Nigerians?




A never-doubted rock-solid performance from Richard Dunne and Andy O’Brien lead to Ireland picking up all 3 points in Cape Town, while over in Durban there has been late drama as Arjen Robben’s 95th minute goal puts Holland 2-1 up against Australia before ex-Newcastle and Rangers defender Craig Moore heads home a 97th minute equaliser for the Socceroos, causing absolute scenes with the Aussie fans who jump higher than a kangaroo on a trampoline with joy. Ireland are top of Group G after Game 1 of the World Cup!



Sunday 20th June 2010 – Free State Stadium, Bloemfontain

Holland vs Ireland – World Cup 2010 Group G


Needless to say a much tougher encounter is on the cards in our next game as we face Holland who as we know went on to the final of this tournament only to narrowly lose to Spain in extra time. Luckily for us, Wesley Sneijder is out injured for the rest of the tournament, his place taken by Nigel De Jong who has less fond memories of that final due to the red card earned which gave Spain the upper hand. Unfortunately Damien Duff is also out through injury as Ireland make two changes, Stephen Hunt replacing him and Steven Reid taking the place of Keith Andrews in midfield.



Is the word deja-vu French or Dutch?? De Jong almosts lasts the full game without getting sent off until he is given his marching orders on 93 minutes, clearly frustrated by another given which was Shay in the Irish goals who managed to produce a string of saves to earn Ireland a clean sheet and a valuable point against one of the tournament favourites. Over in Pretoria, Nigeria have been the Aussies 2-1 and somehow we’ve managed to stay top of the group despite only scoring one one goal in two games – it’s an absolute tactical masterclass (writer’s note: pffftt).




Friday 25th June 2010 – Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg.

Ireland vs Australia – World Cup 2010 Group G


You’d have to be confident against Australia. Aside from a 31 year old Harry Kewell who is currently plying his trade at Galatasaray along with our brother from another mother Tim Cahill, they haven’t got a lot to offer and never has an Ireland team had such an opportunity to progress to the last 16 of a major tournament. Fosters anyone?



With Duff still out injured and Whelan suspended, Hunt keeps his place and Darren Gibson makes his first appearance of the tournament. No silly tackles Darren yeah? (thankfully he’s not driving over here either). we assign him to look after Cahill, while hopefully Harry Kewell can be kept quiet so we can send him packing to the bright lights of the Turkish Super Lig.



It almost went perfectly, Ireland defending admirably although the same could be said for Australia right up until Kevin Doyle opened the scoring on 64 mins. We brought on James McCarthy and Stephen Ward to try and see out the game however Mark Bresciano equalised on 77 minutes to earn a point for the Australians – we can get over that though, WE’VE QUALIFIED FOR THE LAST 16!! Our 5 points mean we have a chance of finishing top of the group depending on how things ended over in Ellis Park just 15 mins down the road..



It’s a shock result for the Dutch as Nigeria romp home to a 3-1 victory, meaning Holland fail to win a game and actually finish bottom of the group on goal difference! Unfortunately Taye Taiwo’s 79th minute penalty means we finish second and therefore get a potentially harder draw in the next round.



Thanks I guess..


Tuesday 29th June 2010 – Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane.

Ireland vs Cameroon – World Cup 2010 Last 16


The shock results didn’t stop at Nigeria beating Holland as over in Port Elizabeth, World Cup favourites have been beaten 1-0 by Cameroon and this coupled with a 0-0 draw against Honduras in their second game means they are knocked out of Group H. Had they qualified they would be our next opponents and we would surely be on the next flight home; instead we now face an in-form Cameroon who topped their group led by that man Samuel Eto’o – he will absolutely be the danger man in our next fixture. It’s a mixed bag in the Last 16, with contenders such as Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal and England all avoiding eachother meaning if we do manage to get through we will most likely end up against one of them. England topped their group with the likes of Rooney and Lampard picking up a couple of braces during the group stages, while Serbia are not to be snuffed at after they beat Ecuador 8-0 (!) in their last group game. I’ve also just noticed Argentina didn’t even qualify which explains why Honduras are flying high…this is definitely where things get serious.


World Cup 2010 Last 16

The surprises just keep on coming as Bosnia knock out England in extra-time, needless to say Eden Dzeko was the man who did the damage and unfortunately there’ll be no clash of history between our two rival nations. Uruguay have literally silenced an entire nation as they batter defending champions Italy 3-0 – a brace from Diego Forlan is topped off by a goal from young Ajax Striker Luis Suarez, he looks hungry for success in this writer’s opinion. Cristiano Ronaldo scores a hat-trick to knock out the hosts South Africa, while Spain need penalties to get past Serbia who fought honorably in this tournament. My favourite FM defender of all time Raul Albiol scores the winning penalty, he was my hero in FM13 becoming a club icon at Newcastle. With our game scheduled last out of all the Last 16 ties, we also get to watch Algeria knock out Switzerland (they don’t even have Mahrez yet) followed by a heartbreaking exit of Ivory Coast who lose 3-2 in the 120th minute at the hands of a Germany side who unfortunately due to licensing reasons aren’t even recognisable in the game – if we qualify and draw them I may have to get creative..


This game won’t be easy – in addition to Samuel Eto’o Cameroon boast a number of players all playing in the top tier of European football; Makoun, N’Koulou, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto – they’ve even got Geremi on the bench for good measure. Do Ireland have enough to go toe-to-toe with the conquerors of Brazil?



You can’t beat the World Cup..in almost every tournament, there is usually one player that emerges as either a national hero and saviour, or returns home in ignominy as public enemy number one. Packie Bonner in Italia 1990, Ray Houghton in 1994, David Beckham in 1998, Zinedine Zidane in 2006 – here we are in the World Cup last 16 and it’s a penalty shoot-out that will determine our fate. Will a national hero emerge?



Despite Glenn Whelan’s best attempt at becoming a persona non grata in the Emerald Isle, Shay Given was having none of it saving not one but two penalties including one taken by one of the best Strikers in the world. Having initially gone 2 goals down either side of half-time, Kevin Doyle bagged a 3 minute brace in the second half to bring the clash to extra-time and penalties, and it was Ireland who held their nerve winning 5-3 on penalties. For only the second time, Ireland are in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup!


Not a single f*ck was Given 😀



Quarter Final Draw


Saturday 3rd July 2010 – Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban.

Germany vs Ireland – World Cup 2010 Quarter Final


One of the biggest sporting events in Ireland’s history. It’s just over 30 years to the day since Salvatore Schillaci broke Irish hearts in the Quarter Final of Italia ’90, and now today Ireland have the opportunity to go one better and create sporting history. Only one thing stands in their way: Germany.

Licence restrictions mean that FM10 doesn’t show us the quality of this German side however we know better – Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Muller, Klose – Ireland certainly have their work cut out for them.

Moses himself could walk in and the Moses Mabhida Stadium wouldn’t bat an eyelid with the Irish contingent in full swing – South Africans will be have “Shoes off for the Boys in Green” for years to come while the Germans are naturally cool and composed lining up for kick-off. This German confidence that has been ever-present throughout world football is clearly tangible, that is until Stephen Reid pops up out of nowhere and smashes home to give Ireland an early lead just 20 minutes in….IRELAND TAKE THE LEAD!!

Back into unchartered territory, the minnows of Ireland leading against one of the best teams in the world. Is this really going to happen?

Ireland’s dreams lasted 10 minutes before Frank Kiefer aka Lukas Podoski equalises for the Germans on 30 mins, before they then took the lead 11 minutes later after a Richard Dunne foul allowed Bastien Schweinsteiger to convert a penalty on the brink of half time. If that wasn’t unfortunate enough (luck of the Irish?), Andy O’Brien then got himself sent off for a two-footed tackle on Miroslav Klose’s alter ego resulting in both of them leaving the field. Irish fans can’t believe how quickly their luck has changed…2-1 down with 10 men and 45 minutes to play, can Ireland produce a miracle to come back from this?

Why Brexit Will Be a Disaster for Ireland | Fortune
Ball burst

Irish fans can hold their heads up high as can the players who performed admirably throughout this campaign – some outstanding individual performances from the likes of Shay Given, Stephen Reid and Kevin Doyle who finishes top scorer for the Irish with 3 goals. Continuing in this FM10 World Cup universe, the Germans go on to the semi-final only to lose on penalties to Spain who easily defeated Bosnia in the Quarter Final. They go on to face Portugal in all Iberian World Cup final, after the Portuguese beat Uruguay and Algeria en-route to the grand finale – we know that Spain were the eventual real life winners back in 2010, is Football Manager 2010 being played in the year 2020 about to predict and recreate history simultaneously?

It had to be Nani…..

So..that’s how it should have ended! Were it not for Thierry Henry, this Ireland team could have (writer’s note: let me dream) exceeded all expectations and come close to putting themselves in the history books for years to come – instead, we were forced to watch from the couch that summer and every Irish pub in South Africa will forever rue the day that the French literally and metaphorically put their hand out and snatched World Cup qualification from under us…John O’Shea still hears chants of vuvuzelas at night and dreams of Shakira’s hips not lying. At least someone tells the truth eh Thierry?

Thanks for reading,


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