French not impressed with Henry’s helping hand

SHAMEFUL. Disgusting. Outrageous. French fans were on the radio and the internet within moments of the end of the match on Wednesday night, and the condemnation of the way France qualified was continuing last night.

French players and officials were rather less forthright, but their silence spoke volumes.

Patrice Evra perhaps summed up their feelings: “Ireland deserved to win; let’s be frank, we were awful. But we’re through.”

Raymond Domenech, who could well have been out of a job but for Henry’s sleight of hand, made a brief attempt to celebrate the win as “miraculous” but later accepted that “lucky” might have been a more accurate choice of words.

Jean-Pierre Escalettes, president of the French Football Federation accepted that “the Irish must feel frustrated” but urged people to “forget the match and look forwards”: “Let’s remember that we didn’t have luck with us during the qualifying games.

“Now we’re going to the World Cup. It’s great for the whole of French football. Lots of players deserve to go. And we’ve already shown that when you qualify by the back door you can go a long way in the final phase.”

So it was left to former players such as Emmanuel Petit and Laurent Blanc to take a more considered and balanced view.

“There’s nothing glorious about this qualification achieved in a painful and extremely dubious manner,” said Petit.

“The French team got in through a mouse hole, so it’s time to keep a low profile.”

“They let themselves be dominated in every aspect of the game. Very few got their heads out of the water.

“Congratulations to the Irish, they were enormous. Over the two games they would have deserved to go through to the finals.”

As for the goal, Petit felt “several people were at fault”, particularly the match officials.

“I’m not going to stand bail for the officials, or for Titi Henry in what he did. But at least take a low profile with the celebrations.”

For Laurent Blanc, the referee was less to blame.

“I was at the game and I can tell you we didn’t see anything amiss from the stands. Thus it’s conceivable that the ref saw nothing as well.

“So what do you do? If there had been five officials the goal would probably have been disallowed, although that wouldn’t have necessarily meant we were out.

“You can argue about these things, but that’s not the point. There are lots of victories that leave a bitter taste behind, but we’re still happy to be going to the finals.”

Domenech was involved in an extraordinary row with his former player Bixente Lizarazu after the game.

Lizarazu, a pundit on RTL radio, claimed that he was embarrassed by the performance and said he would not be celebrating France’s qualification “out of respect for the Irish”.

Domenech retorted: “Tonight everyone is happy. You’re not going to be a killjoy tonight.”

Lizarazu was totally unimpressed with Domenech’s response and came back at him.

“At no point did France react over the 120 minutes. The Ireland team was extraordinary. I won’t be celebrating out of respect for the Irish.”

Another former Arsenal and international team-mate of Henry’s, Robert Pires, said the match was a perfect example of why FIFA should bring in video replays.

“The only thing I can say is, ‘Long live video replays’,” he said.

“Of course I am very happy France got through, but it’s sad to get through in this way. The Irish will be watching the World Cup on TV. They wouldn’t care if Henry was punished (retrospectively for cheating). I don’t agree with what happened. It was a bad reaction to, and maybe he tried his luck (intentionally). You would have to ask Titi.”

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