FIFA yesterday rejected Ireland’s request to replay their World Cup qualifier against France, but Thierry Henry said a rematch would be “the fairest solution” to resolve the furore over his extra-time hand ball that set up the deciding goal.
Turning down an appeal by the Football Association of Ireland as well as pressure from lawmakers and football figures in both countries, Fifa said it could not interfere and the referee’s decision to allow the goal stands.
“The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed,” Fifa said in a statement.
“As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.”
Henry used his left hand to keep the ball from going out of play, then passed to William Gallas, who headed in the decisive goal.
At the time of Henry’s handball, which went unpunished by Swedish referee Martin Hansson despite fervent appeals by Ireland players, the match was 17 minutes from reaching a penalty shootout.
The 1-1 draw at Stade de France put the French through to next year’s World Cup in South Africa 2-1 on aggregate.
Henry was jubilant in his goal celebrations but was more subdued at the end of the match and admitted to handling the ball.
The France captain said after the game that the referee was at fault for not spotting the offence but waited until after Fifa’s ruling to acknowledge the possibility of a replay.
“Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control,” Henry said. “Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish, who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.
“There is little more I can do apart from admit that the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish.”
Henry again denied deliberately handling the ball, although television replays suggested he slapped the ball once to stop it going out of play and again to set up the pass to Gallas.
Irish captain Robbie Keane, said: “As captain of the French team, to make such a statement took courage and honour, and all of us recognise that.
Many in France have urged Fifa to sanction a replay, casting the incident as a national embarrassment.
Francois Bayrou, leader of France’s third biggest political party, Modem, said that the match should ideally be replayed, while gover nment Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said she felt “very sad” that the national team had qualified for the World Cup by “cheating.”
But in Dublin, the FAI said it received Fifa’s reply rejecting a replay. The FAI said its management board would meet to consider the matter.
Meanwhile Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger joined forces yesterday to call for video technology to be used to avoid controversies like the one that has marred France’s qualification for the World Cup.
Ferguson supports change but the Scot fears that all discussion on the issue is futile because FIFA, are simply not interested in revolutionising the role of the referee.
He said: “The stance is that they prefer human decisionmaking rather than technology decision-making and until they change their mind there is nothing you can do about it – you have to convince them, nobody else.
“It is not a matter of asking every player and manager in the world their opinion because they will all share the same one, as I do myself, that technology can play a part and can help referees in a situation like the other night.”
Meanwhile Ireland have been left counting the cost of some extreme misfortune.
Ferguson added: “My thoughts were with (Ireland coach) Giovanni Trapattoni. He prepared a team that put in an absolutely magnificent performance. You couldn’t ask for better from a coach but it was taken away from him.
“It happens and it’s denied a couple of our players the great experience of playing in the World Cup finals and you’ll never get a better experience than that.”
Ferguson’s call for the introduction of technological support for match officials was backed by Arsenal boss Wenger, who argued that mistakes like the one involving Henry could no longer be accepted given the stakes involved.
“Football accepts that a billion people see it, one guy doesn’t see it and it is the one who prevails. It cannot work,” Wenger said. “We cannot accept that an obvious decision is wrong because we do not want to give ourselves all the needed help we can have in the modern game.
“Being at the game, I saw the referee giving a goal knowing that something was wrong and that is really sad. He didn’t see it, I can understand, the linesman didn’t see it, but they couldn’t get any help.
“In the end, he gave a goal, already knowing that it wasn’t a goal. We cannot accept that in our sport and you have to do something about it.”
Wenger also admitted to feeling a little ‘embarrassed’ by the nature of France’s qualification.
“For the sense of justice it is quite embarrassing to see,” he said. “I think even France is embarrassed. We didn’t play well at all and we won the game and won the qualification with a goal that was not a goal.” – Sapa-AFP.
WORDS CAN’T DESCRIBE: Thierry Henry drives his car past a poster erected by an Irish newspaper after a training session in San Joan Despi in Spain yesterday. Henry, the captain of France, apologised for his handball which eliminated Ireland from the World Cup.