Fifa says no to replay as play-off row rumbles on
A day that began with Fifa ruling out a replay of the France vs Ireland World Cup play-off ended, after pleas, denials and opinions from all quarters, with the French still heading for South Africa and the Irish seething.
William Gallas’s extra-time equaliser, created with the help of Thierry Henry’s handball, in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw in Paris that sent France through with a 2-1 aggregate win must already be among the most replayed of recent years.
It has also become one of the most widely discussed with both team captains, the rival federations, political figures from the two countries and a host of managers across Europe giving an opinion on the issue on Friday.
Despite Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni saying that requesting a replay was pointless, the FA of Ireland (FAI), supported by the country’s government, duly did so on Thursday.
As widely expected, Fifa wasted little time in rejecting the plea, issuing a statement on Friday saying:
“The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.”
Soon afterwards, Henry issued a statement that said: “Naturally, I feel embarrassed at the way we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.
“Of course, the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control. There is little more I can do apart from admit the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our equalising goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish.
“I am not a cheat and never have been.”
Ireland captain Robbie Keane responded with his own appeal.
“To make such a statement took courage and honour, and all of us recognise that,” he said.
“I would also be happy for a replay to happen in the interest of fair play so that whichever team qualifies, can do so with their heads held high.
“We can only hope the French Football Federation might accept the wishes of both captains in the best interests of the game.”
The FAI board met later in the day and echoed Keane’s plea, calling on the French federation to “join with it and the captains of the French and Irish teams ... to request a replay from Fifa that would protect the integrity of the game worldwide and the pride of the French national team.”
In Dublin, Irish fans protested outside the French Embassy while Irish politicians continued to rail against the injustice.
Pat “The Cope” Gallagher, leader of the Fianna Fail group in the European Parliament, said he would raise the issue when the Parliament convenes in Strasbourg on Monday.
As club managers around Europe spoke to the media ahead of their weekend games, Henry’s handball dominated the agenda, with his former boss at Arsenal, Frenchman Arsene Wenger, defending the striker but agreeing a replay should take place.
“Football and sport in general is full of heroes who have cheated 10 times more than Thierry—he is super-fair,” he said. “France has to say ‘yes it was a handball and we offer a replay’. It is embarrassing to qualify the way we qualified.”
One dissenting Irish voice was that of the national team’s former captain Roy Keane, now manager of English Championship (second division) club Ipswich Town.
Keane, who walked out on the eve of the 2002 World Cup after rowing with Irish officials, pointed to a controversial penalty in Ireland’s favour in a 2-1 qualifying win over Georgia.
“I don’t remember the FAI after that game saying we should give them a replay,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, the French federation (FFF) put the issue to bed with its own statement saying the organisation understood the “disappointment and bitterness of the Irish players, officials and fans” but had no plans to ask for a replay.
“The decision by Fifa is final and should be respected by both federations,” the FFF said. “The FFF never tried to deny that a refereeing mistake led to the French goal being awarded.”
One thing most observers were united about was the need to introduce the use of cameras to assist match officials.
“The biggest anger for me is that we are still in 2009, sitting here where millions of people see what happened, one guy doesn’t see it and we can’t help him,” Wenger said. - Reuters