Thursday, November 19, 2009

La Main de Dieu

When Argentina's Diego Maradona used his hand to help score a key goal in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals vs. England, he described it as "la mano de Dios", or "the hand of God". It's a big story in soccer lore.

And now, we have "la main de Dieu", for the double hand-ball committed by France's Thierry Henry (who was offside as well) before he assisted on the goal that allowed France to qualify for the 2010 World Cup field. The losing Irish are devastated, with government officials demanding the French replay the match to right an obvious wrong.

That's silly, of course; bad calls are as much a part of sport as the weather and injuries. Unless someone can prove the ref who says he never saw Henry touch the ball was working in cahoots with the French, this match is over.

But of course, with the outrage comes the usual demand for video replay. I'd suggest that soccer, a sport that persists in keeping the actual length of the game a fuzzy approximation by adding "stoppage time", is unlikely to suddenly jump into the replay business.

However, the sport could easily improve its officiating by putting more eyes on the field. The NFL regulates 22 players with 7 officials on the field. Soccer, on a larger field, uses only 3. That's the same number who monitor 10 players on an NBA court.

In particular, soccer should assign an assistant referee to each goal area, where fouls and hand-ball calls (or the lack thereof) are most likely to have a sudden impact on the game. It's an obvious improvement, and it could be done tomorrow.

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