Monday, August 2, 2010


Some narratives have only a beginning, their end not in sight. These are the narratives that seem to grow as the world they depict develops. The hand goal in FIFA World Cup is arguably one such. Whether Maradona’s “hand of God” goal in the 1986 edition of WC was the first hand goal ever in the eighty year history of this celebrated tournament or not we do not know, but it is certainly the most talked about and written about hand goal of the competition.

The world did not see another hand goal in the following five editions of WC. However, the just concluded WC amply made up for the lack. The play-off match between France and Ireland to decide which of these would play WC 2010 finals saw something close to a hand goal: a goal that resulted directly from the pass from the French captain Thierry Henry – the great footballer with a fairly clean record - who had handled the ball twice, not once. This was the goal that put paid to the aspirations of the Irish, and left the country dejected. The French President apologized to the Irish people, as had Henry done before. He had regretted his handball, but insisted that it was not deliberate.

Continuing with the theme of double handball, the WC finals saw something worse: in the match against Ivory Coast, Luis Fabiano handled the ball twice before scoring what was Brazil’s second goal. This did not affect the results of course, and in that sense had no material consequences, but what was hilarious was that the referee had seen it, and even during the match had reportedly asked him (that too, laughingly) why he did what he did. Socrates, the captain of the Brazilian team in WC 1986, was perhaps right when he said that the team that brings crowd to the stands would receive indulgent treatment from the referees at the WC. Far from being apologetic, the player said in a post-match interview that there was a certain attractiveness about things illegitimate! Maradona would not grant him a hand of god goal; that attainment was his alone, he asserted; as far as he was concerned, Fabiano was only a pretender, having scored only an “arm goal”! Fabiano must have felt disappointed that his goal did not inspire must talk; not many cared to censure either him or the referee. In fact, Kaka’s red card in the same match invited more media attention.

Then happened Luis Suarez’s handball that doomed Ghana, and with that the entire continent of Africa. For the first time in the WC history an African team would have been in the same final. That was not to be. The Uruguayan stopped the goal bound ball with his hand in the final minutes of extra time. Instead of a goal, Ghana got only a spot kick, which they missed, and winning the penalty round, Uruguay went to play the semi-final, after many years. Suarez was red-carded, but that hardly mattered to anyone, including Suarez, who celebrated his country’s victory (rather Ghana’s defeat, as some put it), and proudly proclaimed that his was the “hand of god” goal. But Suarez is Suarez, and Maradona is Maradona, so the former’s remains only a hand goal, whereas the latter’s, the “hand of god” goal.

Suarez reportedly became a celebrity in Uruguay (and a villain in the entire African continent) for what he had done. A country needing an occasion to celebrate, celebrated its fourth place in WC 2010. Many would of course condemn him for having brought disrepute to the game. Unlike Maradona, Henry and Fabiano, he justified his hand goal, and did not hesitate saying it was intentional. He said that it was the only way to stop the goal-bound ball. The situation was dealt with by the referee according to rules that punished the player, and gave Ghana a chance to score. But Suarez knew, as everyone does, that the penalty taker would be under tremendous pressure at that stage, and might fail to score, which was precisely what happened. Suarez’s gambling brought Uruguay to the penalty shoot out stage. From his point of view, what he had done was a perfectly rational act, which he had done for his country. He had chosen between loyalty to his country and loyalty to the game. Suarez’s case would remain a classic example of the limits of both rationality and nationalism.

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