World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane says former France teammate Thierry Henry “is not a cheat” despite his handball helping his country qualify for the World Cup at Ireland’s expense.
Zidane, who won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship with Henry, said on French radio that the captain “made a big on-field error” but “is not a cheat.”
Henry’s handling set up William Gallas’ equaliser in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw that sent France to next year’s tournament.
“Thierry Henry’s handball is just a match fact,” Zidane told Canal Plus television. “I’ll support Henry. I think he’s not a cheat. He acknowledged that he handled the ball. I’ve known him for 10 or 12 years and I know that he’s not a cheat.
“I’m just saying he made a poor decision like I did, too. Everybody makes mistakes.” The Irish appealed to the French federation to agree to a replay but were turned down.
Amid growing pressure for an apology from Henry, Zidane hinted that Henry has already done enough: “In my eyes, saying that he would be ready to replay the match sounds like an apology.”
Zidane, who retired after being sent off for a headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final loss to Italy, understood Ireland’s anger but said this kind of incident was common on a pitch.
He also suggested that Henry’s career would not be affected by that incident despite analogies made with Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ in Argentina’s victory over England in the 1986 World Cup.
“He’ll get over it. Those are difficult times anybody has to go through. It won’t haunt him. It’s part of the game.”