While the World Cup doesn't kick off until next June, international angst over prospective berths in the tournament has been raging for two years. The top seeds are now qualified, and playoffs for the second set of entrants have dominated the week, wrapping up Wednesday night in dramatic fashion. If you're an American or a soccer neophyte who missed out on the action, catch up below on France's game-winning handball, North Africa's tense showdown, and the rise of the underdogs on the world soccer stage.
- Time for Instant Replay. Famed French forward Thierry Henry caused quite a stir in the Irish and UK papers when his (debatably) intentional handball created the perfect opportunity for teammate William Gallas to score and ensure France a spot in the tournament. While the debate over whether or not Henry cheated rages between the U.S. and the U.K., there's one question both sides are asking: Is it time for FIFA to bring instant replay to the game? The Sporting Blog's Dan Levy sums it up, "It's not an overstatement to say that Henry's handball could change the course of soccer around the world, forever. It's so amazing and egregious an oversight by the referee and linesmen that, undoubtedly, policy will be changing for FIFA some time soon."
- Egypt and Algeria, Still Fighting After All These Years. With news of an Egyptian fan attack on the Algerian national team on Saturday, questions over whether scores would be settled on the pitch last night abound. Including a thorough history of the spat between the two countries, Huffington Post blogger, Ken Gude summed up the rivalry with this, "You know there is a problem when a match is played in Sudan to avoid violence...These two neighboring North African nations have a deep, and at times violent, rivalry on and off the soccer field." How would the Sudanese handle unruly fans at the game? New York Times East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Getåtleman set the scene.
- Welcome to the Era of Cinderella says the Wall Street Journal's Matthew Futterman. Pointing to the success of smaller countries against their usually superior counterparts, Futterman says, "The increasingly global nature of the professional game has reshaped the soccer world, which, like the rest of the globe, is significantly flatter than it was a generation ago....It may not happen this time around, but given the increasing flow of talent, training and information across borders, it's almost certain that a small upstart nation blessed with good athletes and better luck will make a legitimate run at the world's most coveted trophy."