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You've got to hand it to France

Posted by Kevin Cullen  June 11, 2010 02:56 PM

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No one stood for The Marseille in The Banshee.

France cheated its way into the World Cup. At the expense of the Irish, no less.

The Banshee is an Irish pub in Dorchester. Its ethos is Irish. Its essence is football, the beautiful game, what some, but not many, call soccer.

It goes without saying that the World Cup brings partisans out to cheer on teams that represent the country of their birth, their ancestry or their affection.

But, at The Banshee, and countless Irish pubs, from Boston to Bantry Bay, you can see the other side of the coin: Folks cheering against enemies, real or perceived.

For the Irish, and for many serious football fans, the team to cheer against is France. The team to cheer for is ABF: Anybody But France.

And on the first day of the World Cup, 2010, it was Uruguay.

Uruguay is a small country in South America. It has only 3.5 million people, about 3.5 million of whom were watching the game against France. But in terms of football pedigree, Uruguay is a legacy. They have won the World Cup twice, including the first one, in 1930. In 1950, they won their second Cup, beating mighty Brazil.

Besides Uruguay, the smallest country to win a World Cup was Argentina, with a population more than 10 times that of Uruguay.

So the Irish, who love an undersized underdog as much as anybody, love Uruguay. But if size usually matters in these things, smaller countries winning the support of the unaligned, it wouldn't matter who the French were playing.

"I don't think it's just the Irish who want France to lose. Most football fans would see France as we do: they don't belong in the World Cup," said Oran McGonagle, a Donegal man who works at The Banshee. "If you look around this pub, I don't think you'll find one person supporting France."

Last November, France beat Ireland in a playoff for a World Cup spot, on the strength of Thierry Henry using his hands to set up the game-winning goal. They don't call it football for nothing; you're not supposed to use your hands. But the referee, whose name was Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes, saw nothing.

The Irish were forlorn. So all they could do with the World Cup on is cheer on Forlan, Uruguay's talented striker.

In the 64th minute, one of Forlan's free kicks nicked off Franck Ribery, the French player who looks most like a pirate. It would have been sweet, but, alas, it went right into the hands of the French goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.

There was a buzz when Monsieur Mains himself, Henry, was shown warming up on the sideline. And when he did come in, in the 72nd minute for Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka, he was purposely snubbed in The Banshee.

No reaction whatsoever.

But the Irish can hold a snub only so long. When the announcer on TV mentioned that Henry was the first Frenchman to play in four World Cups, something of a hiss arose.

Seconds later, Forlan missed, inexplicably, from pointblank range after a long throw-in.

"Stupid!" a Dublin accent roared.

The idea of being detached, at this point, was starting to look, well, stupid.

But when Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro slid into France's Bacary Sagna with a reckless challenge, even the Irish agreed the Uruguayan deserved a red card, throwing him out of the game.

"Spikes high," four young Irishmen near the door said in unison. They agreed with the call, even if it meant Uruguay would play the last ten minutes a man down.

In the 89th minute, Henry hit a bullet toward the goal. A Uruguayan defender clearly handled the ball. Henry threw his hands up. He looked, remarkably, like dozens of Irishmen did inside The Banshee last November, when Henry caressed the ball down to his teammate William Gallas for the goal that sent Ireland packing.

But, in South Africa, Henry got nothing but a wagging finger from the ref. Henry stood in the box, waiting for a penalty kick that never came.

"Now he knows how it feels," said Lorraine McCarney, the bartender from County Tyrone, whose smile betrayed something called satisfaction.

In extra time, Henry got a free kick on a questionable call outside the box.

The Banshee went quiet. If Henry scored, young men from Offaly and Longford would be throwing themselves in front of buses on Dot Ave.

Thankfully, it never came to that. Henry's kick hit the wall, and moments later it was over.

A scoreless draw, a smattering of applause.

The Irish weren't going to show too much emotion. Bad form, and all.

But, like Lorraine McCarney's smile, watching Thierry Henry complain about the injustice of a hand ball not called was indeed warm, wonderful and a very good beginning to the World Cup.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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