Football: Cup rematch troubles Irish FA

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The Independent Online
THE IRISH Football Association has accused Fifa of double standards over its handling of the Arsenal-Sheffield United FA Cup rematch. The IFA chief executive David Bowen urged world football's governing body to clarify its position or risk throwing the game into turmoil.

Bowen stood up at the international board meeting in Cardiff last Friday and questioned whether either Fifa or the FA had the authority to overturn 123 years of history.

After much debate - Fifa finally gave the go-ahead on Monday night after examining FA Cup competition rules - Arsenal won 2-1. Fifa declared the re-match lawful under rule four of the FA Cup regulations.

However, Bowen warns the insistence no precedent has been set is "nonsense" and he has questioned how Fifa arrived at the decision. He said: "Last year they were threatening to throw Germany out of the World Cup unless they reversed a decision to replay a game that had taken place in the Bundesliga. In Northern Ireland, we had a similar situation when Coleraine and Linfield met in a cup tie. Coleraine's winner went over the bar and rolled down the back of the net. Yet we had to stand by the referee because he awarded a goal. For the past 123 years, no matter what situations have occurred, once a goal is scored, if play re-starts, it stands. For 123 years, in 203 countries, referees give bad decisions - what law has suddenly given the FA the power to overturn results?"

Fifa's director of communications. Keith Cooper, who backed the re-match call within hours of an announcement being made, insisted there was no link between the Highbury incident and the one in Germany. On that occasion, 1860 Munich and Karlsruhe were told by the German football association, the DfB, to replay a 2-2 draw in which Sean Dundee, now with Liverpool, equalised after the Munich players claimed they had already heard the final whistle blown.

When Fifa launched an investigation, the DfB dropped the replay plan and said that the result had to stand. Cooper said: "No one was protesting against a decision at Highbury. It wasn't that the referee had done anything wrong, more that both sides were unhappy with the way the result had been achieved. It was unfortunate the decision to ratify the game came so late but it was important that we got it right."

Meanwhile, Sheffield United supporters' spokesman Andy Nicholson believes Marc Overmars got off lightly despite being a victim of the Blades' booing supporters. Overmars bore the brunt of United fans' anger during the rematch at Highbury following his actions in the original tie.

He scored from a pass from Nwankwo Kanu, who had unwittingly intercepted a throw from Ray Parlour to goalkeeper Alan Kelly after the ball had been kicked into touch so the injured Lee Morris could receive treatment.

Kanu was initially singled out by observers as the man to blame for starting the furore, but United supporters chose to pick on Overmars. The Gunners winger was jeered constantly throughout the game, only for the 28-year- old Dutchman to have the last word by scoring the opening goal.

Nicholson, however, the joint-chairman of the Blades Independent Supporters' Association, reckons the abuse was "absolutely justified". He said: "For United fans, in terms of the first game, he was the villain more so than Kanu. Overmars was largely overlooked after that match, but he ran almost from the halfway line into the box to get on the end of Kanu's cross.

"To suggest he didn't know what was going on stretches belief. He saw an opportunity to score an easy, but unfair goal. So that's the why we booed and chanted a few things at him. To a person, United fans were agreed on that. But most fans I talked to after the game thought out treatment of him was fairly low key. They expected far harsher treatment."