FAI counting on French goodwill, not Fifa's

 

Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney has defended the decision to request a replay of last night's World Cup play-off against France and called on the French federation to agree in the interests of the integrity of the game.

Thierry Henry's handball and subsequent assist for William Gallas denied the Republic of Ireland a place in the finals at Stade de France and the striker admitted as much afterwards.

Gallas's header secured a 2-1 aggregate win in extra-time after Ireland had levelled the tie through Robbie Keane in the 33rd minute.

Earlier this afternoon, the FAI confirmed an appeal had been lodged with Fifa, while they have also contacted the French Football Federation (FFF) and it appears Delaney hopes this route is the one that will yield some joy.

Quotes attributed to a Fifa source this evening would suggest that is the way to go. Press Association are reporting an insider to have said: "There is no way the game can be replayed.

"To do so would cause absolute chaos for football. If it was replayed, then every match in the future would also be subject to these calls for a replay any time a referee misses an incident.

"Fifa's rules are absolutely clear. Law five states that a referee's decision on points of fact are final. That is the end of it. You cannot replay the match on this basis.

"You have to have a rule that says the referee's judgement is always right."

Delaney, however, clearly feels the question has to be asked. He opened his press conference this afternoon by re-reading the statement in which the FAI said the "integrity" of the game had been damaged by last night's result in full view of "millions of football fans worldwide."

Asked if he was clutching at straws he insisted: "We have got to do what we've got to do. We owe it to the players, who I think were magnificent last night, the management team and the supporters, who were incredible. It was one of the most incredible evenings that you'll ever watch – from an Irish point of view.

"It's up to the people who govern the game now. Every time I go to a Fifa conference I hear about fair play and integrity and all those wonderful words.

He added that this was no ordinary match it was a game in which the "whole world was watching".

"And if Fifa believe in fair play and integrity and all the things we're told, this is their opportunity to step forward.

"And from the French FA's point of view, they need to look at themselves and look at this situation. Thierry Henry is their captain. He's a wonderful footballer but does he want to be remember like Maradona was in 1986. Does he want his legacy to be this handball, this goal that got them to the World Cup.

"We have to do what we're doing, we have to and we're doing it," he added.

Delaney denied this was similar to other games in which decisions go against teams, arguing the game was a "defining game".

He added that he would not be happy if Ireland qualified in this manner and added: "I would go to the manager and the players and if they said it was unjust I would do what I was asked to.”

The FAI has cited a 2006 World Cup qualification between Uzbekistan and Bahrain, which was replayed after Japanese referee Toshimitsu Yoshida made a technical error in ordering a free out after disallowing a penalty when an attacking player encroached.

When it was put to Delaney that this was in no way similar to Martin Hansson missing the handball or not calling it, he indicated he held out more hope for the FFF to accede to replay.

"The French president speaks to me after the game and says it was a handball. He says to me 'it was handball, I'm sorry'. Gerard Houllier: 'It was a handball'.

"In my opinion, they have to step up to the plate now. There's a team that should be in the World Cup today and that' us. We should be there but we are not there."

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".

Brian Cowen and the Government support the FAI’s call for a rematch and Taoiseach raised the disputed goal with French president Nicolas Sarkozy on the fringes of this evening’s EU summit, but was given short shrift.

“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.”

However, Sarkozy admitted the subject was broached this evening but insisted he had no part to play in the reconciliation process.

"Do not ask me to stand in for the referee of the game or the football decision makers, be they in France or Europe. What will be done, will be done, but leave me out of it please," said Sarkozy, echoing the thoughts of his Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

"France will obviously respect what the International Federation will decide," Fillon told reporters earlier.

Henry insisted last night that he didn't intend to handle the ball and told the referee as much at the final whistle.

"The ball hit my hand, I will be honest. It was a handball, you can clearly see it. (Sebastien) Squillaci went to jump with two Irish players, I was behind him and the next thing I know the ball hit my hand. It was a handball, but I'm not the ref."

Asked if he considered telling the referee, he replied: "I did. At the end."

Pressed as to why he didn't inform officials at the time, Henry said: "Do I stop, tell the referee and then cross? Very funny."

Liam Brady refused to blame the Barcelona striker, saying referee Martin Hansson "succumbed under pressure".

"I wouldn't blame Thierry Henry for what went on," he said in a separate interview. "I would maybe look at what happened three months before and the fact that these seedings for the play-offs were made to favour the bigger teams. I would ask why that went on.

"The pressure on referees is enormous then. The pressure is too much to bear and I thought the referee up until then had refereed the match in fine fashion, but he succumbed under pressure."

Brady added: "I asked Thierry Henry after the game and he said 'I handled it but I didn't mean it.' When you look at the film I think he kept the ball in play and he meant it. I wouldn't go down the road of (calling it) cheating, the players seek every advantage they can.

"But I would ask Fifa, 'Do we want to play the match again?' We would go to Paris and play again. I don't think it would come to that but we would be willing to go to Paris, on their home ground, and have a fair winner."

Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane claimed the game's masters got the result they wanted.

"They're all probably clapping hands, Platini sitting up there on the phone to Sepp Blatter, probably texting each other, delighted with the result," the striker fumed.

The Tottenham forward also criticised the late decision to seed the play-off ties when it emerged that established football powers such as France, Portugal and, at one stage, Germany could be involved.

"Germany had a chance of being in the (play-offs) as well. With two massive countries, there's no way in a million years is there going to be fair draw."

Hansson, meanwhile, was this morning condemned in his homeland. Hansson's blunder - and Henry's dishonesty - were the major talking points afterwards but Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet laid the blame squarely at the official's door.

Their story said: "There are approximately 80 million Irishmen around the world. We guarantee they all feel pretty bad today. But I sincerely hope there are three Swedes that feel even worse.

"They are Martin Hansson and (referee's assistants) Stefan Wittberg and Fredrik Nilsson."

They concluded by adding: "There will be no World Cup for Ireland and I assume that Team Hansson has also forfeited it's right to continue to take charge of major international matches. Anything else would be a further insult to the Irish nation."

Former referee Graham Poll defended Hansson and hopes the mistake won't cost the Swede a place in South Africa.

"The refs do their best but the players are good at cheating," Poll said. "Take that one incident away, (referee) Martin Hansson had a good game and I'm sure if he had seen the handball he would have given it.

"Sometimes match officials can't see things because of angles. I'm hoping Hansson makes the final 24 for the World Cup finals when selection is made and that his mistake will not count against him, but he will be worried today because he knows that the mistake happened on his watch."