International furore after Irish team ‘robbed’ of World Cup spot
International furore after Irish team ‘robbed’ of World Cup spot

An extraordinary wave of public outrage has gripped Ireland after the national soccer team was robbed of a World Cup place on Wednesday night following a blatant foul by France’s Thierry Henry.

The Dublin government has become involved in an international furore after Henry admitted the foul, which took place deep in extra time in the World Cup play-off and led to the winning goal for France.

Ireland were ahead for much of the game after Robbie Keane scored in the 32nd minute, delighting thousands of Irish supporters who had travelled to the Stade de France in Paris.

A sluggish French team struggled against a clearly superior Irish time until the goal was scored. Now the Irish public is united in appealing to the international soccer authorities and the French team to allow a re-match.

“Conclusive video evidence of a deliberate hand ball by Thierry Henry, which led to France’s additional time goal, has been seen by millions of football fans worldwide,” the Football Association of Ireland said.

“The blatantly incorrect decision by the referee to award the goal has damaged the integrity of the sport and we now call on FIFA, as the world governing body for our sport, to organise for this match to be replayed.”

While the chances of Fifa ordering a replay are slim, football’s governing body do have the power to demand a rematch and have done so on very rare occasions in the past.

“There is precedent for the invalidation of such results,” the FAI explained.

“In 2005, the Bureau of the FIFA World Cup organising committee reached a decision to invalidate the result of a World Cup qualification match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain on the basis of a ‘technical error by the referee of the match.”

Fifa has yet to issue an official missive, saying only that it is “not in a position to comment on decisions taken by match officials”.

Assistance Irish coach Liam Brady, who was also critical of FIFA’s decision to seed the play-off, advantaging the traditional soccer powers, said earlier today that only a rematch will ensure the “integrity of the game”.

“If the game’s going to survive, it’s got to be an equal playing field,” Brady told RTE Radio. “If we’re going to have integrity and dignity in the world game, the game should be replayed. And we’ll go to Paris to play it.”

Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, has also called for a replay and asked for Fifa to be called to account in the interests of fair play.

“They probably won’t grant it as we are minnows in world football but let’s put them on the spot,” the minister said. “It’s the least we owe the thousands of devastated young fans around the country.

“Otherwise, if that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat, you will win.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he would raise the disputed goal with French president Nicolas Sarkozy on the fringes of this evening’s EU summit, adding that the government will support the FAI’s call for a rematch.

“I think that fair play is a fundamental part of the game and I think the official complaint they have lodged will be supported by us,” Mr Cowen said as he arrived at the summit in Brussels.

“Our Minister for Sports actually will write to FIFA in support of that complaint and look for a rematch.”

Asked whether he would discuss the matter with Mr Sarkozy, the Taoiseach said “we’ll probably have a chat about it away from the table.”

Asked if he would raise the question of the French having to agree to rematch, Mr Cowen said: “I want to acknowledge the sense of fair play of the French public who have been making it clear in great numbers that there would be a lot of disquiet about the manner of the goal. But I’m not going to raise it to that high diplomatic status.”

He added: “I just want to see dealt with on the basis of the regulatory bodies of football, making sure that fair play is upheld here.”

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