France striker Thierry Henry admits he intentionally handled the ball to set up William Gallas’ equalising goal, sending France to the World Cup at Ireland’s expense after an intense 1-1 draw on Wednesday.
With Ireland leading 1-0 and the match level on aggregate deep into the first period of extra time, France won a free kick and Henry twice handled the ball - stopping it going out of play, then controlling it - in setting up Gallas for a header.
After the match, the Barcelona striker said Swedish referee Martin Hansson was the main culprit for not spotting the infringement.
“I will be honest, it was a handball. But I’m not the ref,” Henry said. “I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.”
Henry, who enjoyed huge popularity while playing for Arsenal in the Premier League, will be vilified by the English press, who were quick to draw comparisons between Henry’s handball and the famed ’Hand of God’ during the 1986 World Cup, when Diego Maradona punched the ball into the net over goalkeeper Peter Shilton to knock England out of the quarterfinals.
The incident will also re-ignite heated debate as to whether video technology should be used in football to help referees, like similar technology is used in rugby.
Both FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini are against technology, preferring instead to experiment with five officials - one additional official behind each goal - during this season’s inaugural Europa League.
Ireland captain Robbie Keane was furious with Henry, and said goalkeeper Shay Given had a clear view of the incident.
“We knew anyway. When you see the reaction of Shay, he’s two yards away from it. You don’t get a reaction like that (otherwise). (Henry) almost caught it and walked into the net with it,” Keane said. “He’s an absolutely top player and has been for a long time, but it was a clear handball. He actually dragged it in from going out. I wouldn’t expect it from anybody.”
After winning 1-0 in Dublin on Saturday, France won 2-1 on aggregate, and will play in its fourth straight World Cup.
Ireland failed to qualify, as in 2006. But Henry would not express any sympathy for the dejected Irish, preferring instead to pinpoint his own team’s recent problems.
“We suffered for two years, we have been having some problems with our press, our fans, with other people,” Henry said. “It would have been better to do it in another way, but as I said, I’m not the ref.”
France struggled over both games, winning 1-0 at Croke Park with a deflected goal from Nicolas Anelka, and Henry praised Giovanni Trapattoni’s resilient team.
“If they had got through it wouldn’t have been robbery (lucky). We have a lot of respect for this team,” Henry said. “We knew they play long and like a physical battle. You saw tonight that they are a very good team. I played eight years in England and I can tell you they are.”