DUBLIN (AFP) - Angry Irish commentators blasted Thierry Henry as "Le Cheat" on Thursday after the French football skipper helped knock Ireland out of the World Cup with a clear handball.
The traditional luck of the Irish deserted its heartbroken team when Henry's hand seemed to control the ball before his angled pass let William Gallas head in a 103rd-minute goal, giving France a 2-1 aggregate win in the play-off.
"We were robbed" said the Irish Star, "Le Cheat" added the Irish Mirror, while the Irish Sun splashed with "Henry, You Bastille" and the "Hand of the Frog" -- a play on Maradona's 1986 "Hand of God" goal over England.
Irish football veteran David O'Leary said Henry handled the ball twice. "He touched it the first time to stop the ball going out of play and the second time he adjusted the ball so he could knock it across for the goal."
But O'Leary, who played for Ireland in the 1990 World Cup, refused to blame the referee, saying he had had an otherwise "excellent" game in Paris Wednesday night, but on the Henry incident, he had made "a scandalous decision".
"Thierry Henry is a lovely lad and he likes to be liked and he'll be in a very embarrassing position now because he wants to play the game in a certain way," he told BBC radio.
The Irish Times described the incident as "Heartbreak of Henry's hand of God, part II," saying Ireland's travelling army of fans "fell to the ground, inconsolable."
The Irish Independent said the team was "cheated" out of the World Cup finals.
"Armed robbery" its headline says, describing it as a "Massive injustice for boys in green as referee's howler sends French to South Africa".
"The end had a larcenous feel," says its soccer columnist Vincent Hogan, "a French captain, literally with guilt on his hands. 'La Marseillaise' being sung by empty voices."
"Daylight Robbery" says the Irish Examiner, "Henry's handball breaks Irish hearts".
In an editorial the Examiner says the "travesty" demonstrated again the need to use video technology for disputed incidents in matches.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen issued a statement congratulating the national team on its "courageous performance," but made no mention of the handball controversy.
He said the team's efforts kept the nation enthralled for 120 minutes and they made a "heroic effort" to qualify.
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