Disputed goal helps France advance to 2010 World Cup

The Canadian Press

11/18/2009 8:40:02 PM

SAINT-DENIS, France -- France qualified for its fourth consecutive World Cup when officials missed an obvious hand ball by Thierry Henry that led to William Gallas' overtime goal in a 1-1 tie against Ireland on Wednesday night.

Les Bleus avoided a penalty-kicks shootout and won the home-and-home, total-goals playoff 2-1, boosted by its 1-0 victory at Dublin last Saturday.

The game appeared headed to penalty kicks when Florent Malouda sent a free kick to Henry at the post to the right of goalkeeper Shay Given. Henry got between defender Paul McShane and Given, stopped the ball with his left hand, then used his hand again and poked the ball with his outstretched right foot in front of the net.

"He almost caught it and walked into the net with it," said Ireland's Robbie Keane, who scored his team's goal.

Gallas headed it into the net from about one yard as Irish players raised their hands in protest at Swedish referee Martin Hansson.

"I will be honest, it was a hand ball. But I'm not the ref," Henry said. "I played it. The ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."

Gallas hardly knew what happened.

"It went so fast. I saw Thierry's pass. The Irish were surprised, and I put my head, my chest," he said as his voice trailed off.

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni was livid and had to be calmed by officials. Irish fans -- about 8,000 in one section behind the goal -- chanted "Cheat! Cheat!" at Henry.

"I'm not only disappointed tonight, I'm also very sad," Trapattoni said. "The referee should have asked Henry, I'm sure he would have admitted there was a hand ball."

At the final whistle, Given collapsed and lay on the ground in dejection for several minutes as France celebrated. Gallas jumped into coach Raymond Domenech's arms.

It was difficult, arduous and sometimes miraculous," Domenech said. "It was a victory by the skin of our teeth."

Domenech felt it was a shame that Ireland didn't qualify, as well.

"I want to congratulate the Irish players for this battle," he said. "They gave us a very hard time."

Keane put Ireland ahead in the 33rd minute, taking a pass from Damien Duff and beating goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

France had an appeal for a penalty kick turned down by Hansson after Nicolas Anelka tried to go around Given and went down in the eighth minute of overtime.

Lloris made two great saves, on Keane in the first half and against Duff midway through the second.

Domenech had to reshuffle his team because of injuries, replacing Eric Abidal with Julien Escude to partner Gallas in the centre of the defence.

Escude was injured in a clash of heads with teammate Patrice Evra, then was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by Sebastien Squillaci in the ninth minute.

"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."