PARIS (AFP) - A "saddened" Giovanni Trapattoni hit out at match officials but refused to blame Thierry Henry for the handball which helped France controversially dump the Republic of Ireland out of World Cup qualifying here on Wednesday.
Trapattoni's Irish squad had forced the second leg of their playoff to extra time at the Stade de France after Robbie Keane's 32nd minute opener levelled the tie after France's 1-0 win in Dublin last Saturday.
But despite an overall dominant display by the visitors their hopes were crushed when defender William Gallas scored from close range in the eighth minute of the first extra-time period to level the scores and send France on their way to South Africa.
The decisive pass had come from Henry, who had blatantly handled the ball a fraction of a second earlier to the right of Shay Given's goal as the Irish fought to clear the ball.
Immediate Irish protests were waved away by Swedish referee Martin Hansson, and after the match a relieved France coach Raymond Domenech would not get drawn on the issue.
Domenech's "congratulations" to the spirited Irish team rung hollow as he said: "I haven't had the benefit of seeing the replay, all I know is the referee gave the goal and we have qualified."
Trapattoni directed his ire not at Henry but at the officials who he believes had the power to decide whether the goal was valid or not.
"I'm not only disappointed, I'm also saddened," said Trapattoni, who after the second period of extra time went on to the park to talk to the referee.
"I told him that I'd known many Swedish players and I know the Swedish people, but that it's possible you've made a great mistake.
"I think he should have at least consulted with the linesman.
"I don't want to say it's Henry's fault. It's all about the notion of fair play.
"But I'm sure if the referee had asked, Henry would have admitted it was a handball."
Later, Henry did admit the handball mistake.
"Yes, I handled the ball but I'm not the referee," said Henry.
It was a sad end to a promising night for the Irish, who to ran the 1998 World Cup winners over the park and had at least two good chances after Keane's opener to score the second goal that would have virtually secured their qualification.
In the end, the first period of extra time -- and an opportunity to turn their own fortunes around -- ended Irish hopes of making it back to football's biggest stage since their second round showing at the 2002 World Cup.
Domenech paid tribute to the visitors from the Emerald Isle but was unrepentant for Henry's blatant handball or the referee's mistake.
"I want to pay tribute to the Irish team and their fans, what they did over two matches - they gave us a lot of problems and I want to congratulate them," added the Frenchman.
"I'm disappointed for them and their public. But bravo to them.
"Ireland really stepped up and forced us into a situation, and that meant we had to play them at their own game.
"I knew what Ireland were capable of. I knew that trailing by a goal they would come at us with everything they had. And that's just what they did."
When pressed, Domenech swerved deflty around the handball issue.
"Sometimes things that go around come around in football. Against Serbia (earlier in qualifying) we had our goalkeeper red carded for nothing and we were unlucky but didn't go making a big meal of it.
"Football's like that.
"We've qualified because we've achieved our objective. I'm happy to have qualified, the past two months we've been hanging on, been criticised and gone through a lot of tough times. Now, we've made it.
"My job is to qualify the France team, they've done the job on the pitch, they worked hard, they suffered and I just want to savour that if I can."
|Coach: R. Domenech|
for J. Escudé 9'
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