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Nov 13

I don’t normally do this. I’ve had this site around eight years, and I’ve written (I think) a blog every month, so that’s probably close to 100 pieces. But today for the first time, I’m just going to post something I wrote for the Chelsea website. Because I’m so disappointed. Here it is:

I got 10 out of 10 in the World Cup quiz posted on the Chelsea website. It’s no consolation to what has been a crushing end to the tournament’s qualification campaign.

Last month the United States were eliminated when they lost to Trinidad & Tobago, even though the Caribbean nation were bottom of the CONCACAF hexagonal section. Despite the defeat, America would still have made at least a playoff unless both Panama and Honduras upset the region’s top two countries Mexico and Costa Rica. Both giant killers managed it, Panama benefiting from a ridiculous referring call when a shot did not cross the line, but they were awarded a goal anyway.

A similar egregious decision went against Northern Ireland in the European playoffs. Switzerland were awarded a penalty in the first game in Belfast when the Romanian official adjudged that Blackburn midfielder Corey Evans deliberately handled the ball in the box. Not only was his back turned and his arm not in an “unnatural” position, the ball didn’t even strike his arm but hit him on the shoulder! In three hours over two legs the spot-kick was the only goal. It sent the Ulstermen out of the World Cup.

The 2005 Champions League semifinal against Liverpool was decided by a debatable single goal at Anfield, a shot by Luis Garcia that was deemed to have crossed the goal-line. It was the first time I can remember hearing the term “ghost goal,” José Mourinho meanwhile memorably calling it, “a goal that came from the moon.”

But as unjust as the decision seemed that night – and indeed still does more than a decade later – it didn’t have the same finality about it. Since then we have reached the knockout stage of that competition four times, the quarterfinal once, enjoyed a trio of semifinal appearances, made it to the final, and of course, wonderfully, magically, the Blues have lifted the trophy. Call it arrogance or entitlement if you like, but every year I expect Chelsea to qualify for the biggest club tournament on earth. Progress to anything less than the last 16 is is a disappointment.

In contrast, Northern Ireland’s absence from the World Cup is going to stretch until at least 36 years, and probably longer than that. It was 1986 the last time we qualified, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s decades until we do it again. Hopefully they manage it once before I die.

So welcome back to the Premier League and good riddance to the international break. I desperately need football to cheer me up. A personal message to Chelsea – please make sure we beat WBA and their three Northern Irish players McAuley, Evans and Brunt this weekend.

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