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March 22, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The reverse sweep

The Reverse Sweep

The Phoenix’s golden run to the finals came to an abrupt end in the preliminary final less than two weeks ago. The defeat at the hands of Sydney will, however, be a talking point for many more to come. Despite being definite underdogs against the minor premiers, Wellington fans would have been confident of a good showing. The Nix have gathered exponentially increased support this season, following a first ever top six finish, which in turn resulted in two packed home final appearances. However, the fans were left both disappointed and enraged by the resulting 4–2 loss.

While the Nix were outplayed by a clinical Sydney outfit, the game was marred by controversy thanks to a 30th-minute Chris Payne goal, now known colloquially as the ‘Hand of Payne’ goal. The young striker had already come off the bench to provide a superb opening strike in the 21st minute, only to spoil his reputation by steering a Karel Kissel cross past a disbelieving Liam Reddy with his forearm. Although the ‘goal’ did not prove to be the winner (thankfully), it certainly changed the course of the game. The Phoenix players appeared to lose some spirit, and having worked hard to keep the sky blues at bay, the flood-gates opened up midway through the second half.

The Phoenix defence—almost unbreakable at home—was put under constant pressure by the slick Sydney attack, in particular from the combination of a superb Alex Brosque and Mark Bridge. Liam Reddy was again outstanding, making several top-notch saves. However, the Wellington defence—especially on the flanks—was too often left wanting, leaving Reddy with somewhat of a lost cause. Reddy looks set to join Sydney next season, leaving Mark Paston with the responsibility of filling a big void.

There has been mixed reactions from the ‘Hand of Payne’ incident. While the Phoenix players were distraught when the goal was allowed, they are mostly forgiving of Payne, and instead critical of the match officials who failed to pick it up. Ricki Herbert, on the other hand, described the goal as “three times worse” than Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’, or Thierry Henry’s ‘Hand of Frog’, and questioned Payne’s ethics and professionalism. He also felt that Wellington’s pain was no different to that felt by the Irish after Henry’s hand helped William Gallas end their World Cup aspirations. The other obvious example in New Zealand sport is the blatant forward pass that led to the All Blacks’ eviction from the 2007 World Cup—once more at the hands of the French (hissss!).

The ‘Hand of Payne’ is the latest in a series of glaring official mistakes in football, and surely FIFA must be starting to take notice. Most major sports nowadays have some form of off-field intelligence to minimise such mistakes, and as the most global sport, football must be next. The Phoenix fans appear to be on the same page as Herbert, however, with several anti-Payne groups having been formed on Facebook. The main examples are “Chris Payne.. Sydney FC’s Thierry Henry – Cheating Bastard”, “Chris Payne is a cheating prick!” and “Chris Payne is a cheating C**nt”; along with the more general “Same old Aussies, Always Cheating!” While I struggle to argue with the latter (think 1981!), it must be noted that the Phoenix had an amazing season, and managed to silence their critics ON the field.

I look forward to next season being an absolute cracker!

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