DUBLIN (AFP) - Angry Ireland called on FIFA to allow its World Cup playoff with France to be replayed, as a dispute over Thierry Henry's blatant handball threatened to become a diplomatic row.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he supported the Football Association of Ireland's request, and promised to raise the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at an EU summit.
Video replays showed Henry used his hand to stop the ball going out of play in extra-time of Wednesday's match, before he passed to William Gallas to head the goal for a 2-1 aggregate win which sent France to South Africa.
"The blatantly incorrect decision by the referee to award the goal has damaged the integrity of the sport," the FAI said in a statement.
"We now call on FIFA, as the world governing body for our sport, to organise for this match to be replayed."
After talks with Cowen on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels, Sarkozy said: "I told Brian Cowen how sorry I was for" the people of Ireland.
"But don't ask me to substitute myself for the referee, or the French football authorities, or the European football authorities: leave me right where I am," he told reporters.
"You're going to start denouncing me as the hyper-president again," he said, in reference to his reputation as a leader who is drawn to the limelight and seeks to get involved in as many international issues as possible.
Cowen, for his part, said that talking about the match "wasn't the purpose of the meeting" between EU leaders.
However he said he believed after the chat with Sarkozy that "he would understand the sense of disappointment that the Irish people feel after the tremendous performance last night."
"This matter's going to be resolved by the sports organisations with responsibility for football, not in Brussels or anywhere else," he said.
Asked whether he told Sarkozy the match should be played again, Cowen said: "No, I didn't ask for a replay."
Cowen also paid tribute to the French footballing public's outpouring of sympathy for the Irish-- turning on their own team.
He said they had been "making it clear in great numbers that there is a lot of disquiet about the manner of the goal."
FIFA confirmed it had received a letter of complaint from the FAI, but refused to say when any decision would be made.
Ireland's chances of forcing a replay appear slim.
The match in Paris was one of four playoffs on Wednesday which finalised the 32-nation line-up for South Africa.
The draw for next year's finals is due to be made in Cape Town on December 4, leaving little time in a calendar already crowded by club matches.Related article: Who's saying what
FAI chief executive John Delaney said his organisation had also written to the French Football Federation (FFF) asking for the playoff to be replayed, and urged FIFA to take action.
"If FIFA believe in fairplay and integrity... this is their opportunity to step forward," a clearly agitated Delaney said.
"From the French FA's point of view, they need to look at themselves and look at this situation.
"Thierry Henry's their captain, he's a wonderful footballer, but does he want to be remembered like Maradona was in 1986, does he want his legacy to be this handball?" he asked, referring to Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' goal for Argentina against England at the 1986 World Cup.
France coach Raymond Domenech said he was stunned to see his team treated as guilty men in the aftermath of the handball scandal.
"I don't understand why we have been judged guilty. On the pitch, I didn't see the handball. Since then I have seen the video and it's a mistake by the referee," Domenech told www.lexpress.fr
"I don't understand why we are expected to say sorry.
"We are not going to commit hara-kiri because the referee made a mistake and this time in our favour."
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni said he did not believe FIFA would grant a replay.
"It is impossible to repeat the game," the experienced Italian said.
He urged FIFA to explain how Swedish referee Martin Hansson, who failed to spot the incident, had been chosen for such a high-profile match, saying: "For this important game we needed a stronger referee, an important referee."
Henry himself admitted handling, but said the responsibility for seeing the incident fell to the match official.
Trapattoni refused to blame the player, saying: "It wasn't up to Henry to say 'I touched it with my hand'."
The Irish press were unanimous in their condemnation.
"We were robbed" said the Irish Star, "Le Cheat" added the Irish Mirror, while the Irish Sun splashed with the "Hand of the Frog".
A Facebook page entitled "We Irish hate Thierry Henry (the cheat)" also drew hundreds of comments, including a call for an Irish boycott of French goods.
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