'Small' detail unsettles the masses in France

Fri, Nov 20, 2009, 00:00

REACTION:EVEN THE pilot on one of the flights bringing home forlorn Irish supporters from Paris yesterday addressed “The Hand of Henry” issue, his demand for a replay of Wednesday night’s game earning him a hearty round of applause from his weary passengers.

Earlier at Charles de Gaulle airport a young man bedecked in green took command of the microphone at one of the boarding gates and followed a tub-thumping rendition of “Ole, Ole, Ole” with a hastily composed tune dedicated to “Henry the basketball player”.

His pluck drew only smiles from the airport staff, when his compatriots feared he might just be taken in to custody by unamused security.

La Main De Dieu (Hand of God) said the headline in L’Equipe, the Daily Mirroropting for “French Nickers”, a sentiment echoed by several of the Henry’s fellow countrymen.

“I’m very embarrassed by the situation,” said former international David Ginola. “I don’t feel very proud to be French this morning. The Irish played very well and they deserved to go through as much as France, maybe more. I’m very surprised Fifa haven’t mentioned anything about it – the whole world saw the handball. This is a pure injustice. Everyone in France, the press and everyone, says there should be a replay.”

Ginola’s former French team-mate Bixente Lizarazu, who has his own radio show in France, was no less uncomfortable with Wednesday’s events. “We’re going to go to the World Cup, but we go to the locker-room with our heads bowed,” he said. “It was not something to be proud of. I’m not going to party.”

The match reporters on Fifa and Uefa’s websites, though, appeared, a bit like the officials, to miss the handball(s). “And so came extra-time where in the eighth minute a hopeful France free-kick found its way to Henry, who squared for Gallas to head the goal that takes his country to South Africa,” said the Uefa report.

“France skipper Thierry Henry won the match for the hosts when his angled pass amid a goalmouth scramble was met by the head of William Gallas,” said Fifa.

Hello?

Meanwhile, Henry’s former Arsenal and international team-mate Emmanuel Petit, now a L’Equipe columnist, attempted to defend the French captain, insisting that his standing in the game would not suffer as a result of La Main De Dieu.

“I don’t think it will damage his reputation,” he said. “Thierry has done so much in his career and this is a very rare indiscretion. It’s similar to the situation with Zinedine Zidane – he’s been sent off plenty of times . . . we always found an excuse for Zidane so why can’t we find one for Thierry as well?”

“You’d have to say it is out of character,” said Lee Dixon, another Arsenal old-boy and, now, a BBC pundit. “If you look at the Maradona handball at the 1986 World Cup that was not an instinctive movement. That’s a cheating movement and you kind of look at the second movement of Thierry’s hand and say that’s deliberate, that’s the same as Maradona, he knew exactly what he was doing.”

“I’m no angel, but I know that I wouldn’t have done what he did,” wrote Tony Cascarino in the London Times. “And if the roles had been reversed and Ireland had reached South Africa in such a dubious way, would I have been delighted at victory? Of course. Would I have felt it was tainted? Absolutely.”

“I understand that the Irish are frustrated,” French football federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes told L’Equipe.

“They must forget this evening and use it for the future. You have to take a philosophical approach to this match. Football is played on small details, however – qualification is still beautiful.”

A whole new definition of “small”.