PARIS (AFP) - Former champions France flattered to deceive before securing their World Cup spot in controversial fashion here Wednesday after a dramatic 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland at the Stade de France.
Giovanni Trapattoni's visitors, beaten 1-0 in Dublin last Saturday, had taken a shock lead in the 32nd minute through Robbie Keane and the Irish were unlucky not to score more before forcing the match to extra time.
In the first 15-minute spell France had an appeal for a penalty turned down after striker Nicolas Anelka tumbled to the turf under pressure.
Five minutes later France skipper Thierry Henry, who had moments earlier been denied a free kick after falling to the ground 25 yards out, won the match for the hosts when his angled pass amid a goalmouth scramble was met by the head of William Gallas.
Henry's pass, however, came after the ball appeared to make contact with his hand prompting a rash of immediate protests by the Irish players to referee Martin Hansson.
Hansson waved away appeals, allowing France to qualify and thus avoid a repeat of their humiliating failure, at the hands of Bulgaria, to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals.
Gallas was non-committal on the goal circumstances.
"It all happened so quickly. I received the ball from Thierry. It happened so quickly that I couldn't see (if the ball hit his hand)."
A clearly relieved French coach Raymond Domenech said France had had to scrap to the end.
"It was hard, laborious and indeed miraculous," he told French television.
"I was sure we would make it though. My forecast was 1-1!"
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger candidly told broadcaster TF1 that "France never found their game. We lacked cohesion.
"We went through thanks to a refereeing error - and thanks to poor Irish finishing!"
French President Nicolas Sarkozy saluted a "gallant Irish" team before praising his countrymen.
"It's fabulous - we're really glad to get through. Qualification is important as it's a major event," Sarkozy told TF1.
Ireland, especially captain Keane, had the lion's share of the chances in regulation time, and they will be kicking themselves having last qualified for the 2002 World Cup where they got to the second round.
Domenech was forced to reshuffle after the first leg victory in Dublin last Saturday after injuries to midfielder Jeremy Toulalan and central defender Eric Abidal.
After just nine minutes, Abidal's pre-match replacement, Julien Escude, came off injured to be replaced by Sebastian Squillaci.
While France looked dangerous in the opening stages, they went on to look exceedingly mediocre up against an astute Irish defence which gave keeper Shay Given plenty of protection.
Damian Duff and Liam Lawrence had already shown their ability to carve openings in the French defence and it was Duff's cutback from deep on the left side of the French area which found Keane, who drove home first time to beat Hugo Lloris in the France goal.
In the 39th minute France striker Nicolas Anelka turned his marker nicely on the edge of the area but his shot was deflected by an Irish body and went for a corner.
A subdued Stade de France welcomed a more hopeful French team for the second half, but Ireland quickly stated their intent as Keane won a free kick on the left flank and Lawrence's kick found John O'Shea unmarked at the back post.
But after controlling the ball the Manchester United defender's shot was struck over the crossbar from four yards out.
Anelka, seemingly the only motivated Frenchman on the park, provided France's first chance a minute later but his 20 yard effort shot was driven straight to Given.
Striker Andre Pierre Gignac then made way for Sidney Govou.
Just after the hour mark, Ireland were given another golden opportunity, Duff racing through only for Lloris to block his effort.
Keane, one of the survivors of the 2002 tournament, was left frustrated after he missed a golden chance to put Ireland 2-0 up when he put the ball wide from a tight angle with only Lloris to beat.
After struggling all night to overcome a packed Irish defence France's late stroke of luck finally proved Ireland's downfall.
|Coach: R. Domenech|
for J. Escudé 9'
for A. Gignac 56'
for Y. Gourcuff 87'
|Copa Libertadores Wrap: Santa Fe earn away win|
|Fiorentina reject Jovetic rumours|
|Piszczek set for post-season surgery|
|Adriano signs Barca extension|
|International Friendly: Venezuela 2 El Salvador 1|
|Bundesliga chief slams Qatar World Cup scheduling|
|Gignac wants Barton to stay|
|Ramsey, Walcott hail Wenger´s achievements|
|Loew regrets timing of German finale|
|Mourinho and Ronaldo given two-match bans|
|AFC Champions League Wrap: Lekhwiya hold on to progress|
|Thomas, Jara released by West Brom|
|Martinez to decide future|
|Pearce: Championship will not hold back McCarthy|
|Pulis: I understand Stoke´s decision|
|Vidic reflects on ´amazing´ season|
|Bale: Spurs will bounce back|
|Petrov to become academy coach at Aston Villa|
|De Laurentiis begins search for Mazzarri replacement|
|New York City FC appoint Reyna|
|Pardew: We should try emulate Liverpool|
|Ribery: Bayern stronger than Dortmund|
|Conte building for the future at Juventus|
|Bundesliga Play-off Preview: Hoffenheim v Kaiserslautern|
|Ibrahimovic coy on PSG future|
|Goetze to miss Champions League final|
|Giroud wants better European showing from Arsenal|
|Chelsea´s England players to leave tour early|
|Fiorentina capture Yakovenko|
|Pellegrini and Malaga to part company|
|Fulham sign Boateng|
|Green wants first-team football at QPR|
|Britton set for surgery|
|Neville interested in Everton job|
|Holloway: Brighton incident motivated Palace players|
|Rodgers confident of keeping Suarez at Liverpool|
|Eredivisie Preview: Twente v Utrecht|
|Etherington praises Pulis´ work at Stoke|
|Vlaar excited for new season at Aston Villa|
|Badstuber sidelined for 10 months after knee surgery|
|Clichy: Manchester City were right to sack Mancini|
|Cole set for West Ham departure|
|Lampard: It was tough under Benitez|
|Mourinho branded a ´failure´|
|Carroll out of England squad|
|Nasri throws support behind Pellegrini|
|Kewell unhappy with Australia omission|
|Messi: Neymar would be a wonderful addition|
|Doll: Dortmund are not underdogs|
|AFC Champions League Wrap: Seoul, Buriram, Al Ahli, Al Shabab advance|
|Pulis leaves Stoke|
|Sanogo relishing Arsenal move|
|Galtier signs extension at Saint-Etienne|
|Baines explains appearance record|
|Pulis future in doubt amid exit rumours|
|Swansea coach Tucker praises goalkeepers|
|West Ham sign Rat|
|McAuley eager to keep improving|
|Ribery keen to end career at Bayern|
|Reina plays down Barcelona speculation|
|De Boer agrees new Ajax deal|
|Sheffield United make McCall move|
|Heldt: Schalke interested in Santana|
|Messi urges Barcelona not to change|
|Manchester City agree MLS club deal with New York Yankees|
|Cech confident Chelsea will attract big names|
|Blackman urges Reading to be more ruthless|
|Montanier leaves Sociedad for Rennes|
|Rodgers pleased with Coutinho impact|
|Leonardo: Ibrahimovic and Silva to stay|
|Carroll thanks West Hams fans after loan spell|
|De Laurentiis confirms Dzeko interest|
|Wilshere dreams of England captaincy|
|Mourinho a ´scourge´ on Spanish football|
|Moratti will not rush decision on Stramaccioni´s future|
|Klopp warns Dortmund stars about leaving|
|Schneiderlin backs Southampton to improve|
|Podolski delighted with fourth spot|
|Sigurdsson targets improvement at Tottenham|
|Di Canio criticised by PFA chief|
|Steaua owner Becali jailed for three years|
|Hummels pledges future to Dortmund|
|Retiring Ferguson ´overwhelmed´ by recognition|
|J.League Preview: Top three expected to win|
|Argentine Primera Division Wrap: Tigre earn point at Lanus|
|Galtier wants Ancelotti to stay|
|Pique, Barca playing for record haul|
|Gazidis, Arsenal target silverware|
|Juan plots Inter redemption|
|Gibbs wants to build on strong finish|
|Racism will not drive out Drogba|
|Martinez coy on Wigan future|
|Fernandinho still seeking City switch|
|Roberto Carlos set to coach Sivasspor|
|Ferguson named LMA Manager of the Year|