‘Hand of frog’ goal now an international incident
French and Irish leaders joust over call for a replay after Thierry Henry’s blatant cheat
Here's a diplomatic incident that could keep the newly appointed EU president and his high representative busy for weeks: the row between France and Ireland over the handball by Thierry Henry on Wednesday night that booted Ireland out of the World Cup finals.
The controversy has quickly moved from team to international level, with the Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, demanding that the match should be replayed and telling his opposite number, French prime minister Francois Fillon, to take it up with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Fillon replied by saying neither government should interfere in the decisions of Fifa, the sport's governing body. And Fifa duly responded to Ireland's request today with this statement: "The result will not be changed and cannot be replayed".
Sarkozy, who attended the match at the Stade de France, admitted that it had been a "painful" game but left it at that.
What makes the incident unusual is that nobody is denying that Henry cheated - not even the former Arsenal striker himself - when he used his left hand to pull the ball back to William Gallas, who duly scored from point-blank range. The goal equalised the score at 1-1, enough to see France through on aggregate.
As many commentators have remarked, Henry's action looked more like a rugby move than soccer. So blatant was it that even the the French public have denounced Henry for cheating, while in Dublin - where one paper headlined its report 'The hand of frog' - the post-match atmosphere is dreadful. Some are even saying the economy will suffer as a result.
Before the Taoiseach intervened, his justice minister, Dermot Ahern, had already decreed: "If that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat you will win.
"Millions of people worldwide saw it was a blatant double handball, not to mention a double offside. We should put the powers that be in the cosy world of FIFA on the spot and demand a replay."
Joe McHugh, a Fine Gael member of the Irish parliament, said the French should volunteer to replay the match rather than waiting for a Fifa decision. "Throughout the country there is an air of bitterness," he said. "We were beaten unfairly and there is general disgust in France too."
One of the few men in either country to take the goal philosophically was Ireland's team manager, the Italian Giovanni Trapattoni. "I know it's impossible to repeat the game," he said.
Trapattoni called instead on Fifa and Uefa, the European governing body, to consider video replays to help refereees in future. As Neil Clark argued on The First Post yesterday, they work for rugby and they could work for soccer too.