Irish pleas for a replay rejected again
The door appears to have closed on the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of their World Cup play-off second leg against France being replayed after the FAI’s call for their counterparts in Paris to join them in lobbying Fifa was rejected this evening.
The FAI and Ireland captain Robbie Keane, buoyed by Thierry Henry’s admission that a rematch was the “fairest solution”, appealed to the French Football Federation (FFF) today to urge Fifa to sanction a replay.
Keane said it was the will of both captains and the FAI said such a gesture would “protect the integrity of the game worldwide and the pride of the French national team”.
The FFF, however, were not moved and despite praising Henry for his honesty and sympathising with the Irish team and fans, they rejected any prospect of another meeting at the Stade de France.
As they had earlier today, when Fifa ruled out the prospect of a replay, the FFF said it was bound by the laws and decisions of the sport’s governing body, but added it understood the "disappointment and bitterness of the Irish players, officials and fans."
The statement on the FFF website, added: "The decision by Fifa is final and should be respected by both (the French and Irish) federations.
"The FFF never tried to deny that a refereeing mistake led to the French goal being awarded."
There appeared a glimmer of hope that an improbable decision would be made after Henry, whose double handball in the 13th minute of extra-time allowed him to set up William Gallas’s equaliser to snatch a 2-1 aggregate win, said he was “embarrassed” by the manner of the victory.
“Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa," sadi the Barcelona striker. “Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game, but it is not in my control.”
Buoyed by the apparent chink of light at the end of the tunnel, Keane applauded Henry and the FAI emerged from a board of management meeting to join the captain in another plea to the FFF.
“The FAI has called on the French Football Federation, as one of the world’s largest Football Associations, to join with it and the captains of both the French and Irish teams, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane, to request a replay from Fifa that would protect the integrity of the game worldwide and the pride of the French national team.”
This morning the FFF followed a Fifa statement which ruled out a replay, by it would abide by the governing body’s ruling.
To that end the FAI added this evening: “The board of management noted the FFF’s statement that it will comply with whatever Fifa decides and welcomed the French team captain’s statement that a replay would be the fairest solution. Lastly, the FAI’s board of management noted Fifa’s earlier response on the issue and has sent a separate reply to that body.”
Keane, who scored the 33rd minute opener in the Stade de France, thanked Henry “on behalf of the Republic of Ireland players” and praised his “courage and honour” before saying: “I would also be happy for a replay to happen in the interest of fair play so that whichever team qualifies, can do so with their heads held high.”
However, while Henry did say a replay was the “fairest” outcome, he did not exactly call on the FFF or Fifa to sanction one and instead chose to make his statement after both had ruled out the possibility the first time round.
Fifa wrote to the FAI chief this morning, insisting “the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws (Law 5) of the game during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.”
The French authorities FF promptly agreed, saying: “Fifa is the ruler of the game and we have to abide by what they say. What they decide we have to do and they have ruled it will not be replayed. So we should move on.”
Tonight's statement essentially reiterates this point.
France coach Raymond Domenech was first to have his say this morning and insisted he saw no reason why he, or any of his players, should apologise.
“Everyone who loves the French team is pleased with this qualification," he told L’Express.fr. “I too am pleased although it is tinged with a little bitterness due to a poor performance from my team, the referee and also the media reaction.
“I do not understand why we are being portrayed as the guilty party.”
Wednesday’s result sees France rise two places in the Fifa world rankings to seventh, while Giovanni Trapattoni’s side fall two spots to 36. Spain top the rankings, displacing Brazil who drop to second. England have dropped two places to ninth and Portugal are up five places to fifth following a play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
While the mechanism for seeding the World Cup draw on December 4th has yet to be confirmed, Fifa have said they will discount November’s rankings as they have been distorted by the play-offs in Europe.
Four of the World Cup qualified teams do not feature among the top 50 - South Korea, North Korea, New Zealand and South Africa.