FIFA: No replay for France-Ireland WCup qualifier

Nov 20, 2009 - 9:55 PM By STUART CONDIE AP Sports Writer

LONDON(AP) -- There will be no rematch.

Ireland's hopes for a replay of its World Cup qualifier against France ended Friday after both FIFA and the French Football Federation rejected requests for another game.

FIFA said it could not interfere despite a hand ball by France captain Thierry Henry that led to the decisive score Wednesday that put France in next year's World Cup.

"The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed," FIFA said in a statement. "As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final."

The Football Association of Ireland in Dublin responded by petitioning its French counterpart to ask FIFA to change its mind, but the FFF said the decision by soccer's governing body's is final.

"The result of the match can therefore not be modified, nor the match be replayed," the federation said in a statement, adding that it "understands the disappointment and the bitterness of the Irish players, leaders and supporters."

The statement appeared to be the final word in a debate that has gripped the soccer world, with fans and leading politicians in both countries demanding that the match be replayed.

Ireland's decision to appeal directly to the FFF came after Henry said a rematch would be "the fairest solution."

Henry used his left hand to keep the ball from going out of play, then kicked the ball in from of the goal to William Gallas, who headed in the decisive goal. At the time of Henry's hand ball, which went unpunished by Swedish referee Martin Hansson despite fervent appeals by Ireland players, the match was about 17 minutes from going to a penalty kicks shootout.

The 1-1 draw at Stade de France, outside Paris, gave the French a 2-1 victory in the home-and-home, total-goals playoff.

Henry was jubilant in his goal celebrations but was more subdued at the end of the match and in admitting handling the ball. Henry said the referee was at fault for not spotting the offense but waited until after FIFA's ruling to acknowledge the possibility of a replay.

"Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control," Henry said in a statement. "Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish, who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.

"There is little more I can do apart from admit that the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our equalizing goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish."

Henry again denied deliberately handling the ball, although television replays suggested he slapped the ball once to stop it going out of play and again to set up the pass to Gallas.

The 1998 world champions won the first leg of the playoff in Dublin 1-0, but only scored with the aid of a deflection off an Ireland defender.

FIFA did order Uzbekistan and Bahrain to replay a World Cup qualifying match in 2005 following a referee's critical error. However, there is no precedent to order a replay because of second-guessing a referee's judgment on the field of play.

Irish lawmaker Joe McHugh had called on France to follow the 1999 precedent set by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, a Frenchman who volunteered to replay a match in England's FA Cup after the Gunners won on an unfair goal.

Wenger himself backed calls to replay the match.

"I like justice in sport," he said. "There are only two opportunities. One is France can offer to replay, which I support personally. The second is that FIFA has to make a decision on that issue."

About 30 Ireland fans traveled to the French embassy in Dublin on a double-decker bus Friday, but they were blocked at the entrance by guards and left after an hour.

A protest march from Lansdowne Road stadium to the nearby French embassy was planned for Saturday.

Many in France have urged FIFA to sanction a replay, casting the incident as a national embarrassment.

Francois Bayrou, leader of France's third biggest political party, Modem, said that the match should ideally be replayed, while government Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said she felt "very sad" that the national team had qualified for the World Cup by "cheating."

"FIFA would do well to look at the rules because I think it would be good, in such circumstances, to decide maybe to replay the match," Lagarde said on French radio. "Firstly, we should respect the referee. Secondly we respect the rules.

"But if the rules are bad, they have to be challenged."


AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris and Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

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