Irish irate over illegal goal

Soccer-mad Ireland is fighting mad — and demanding justice for a disputed goal that had fans here crying “Oui were robbed.” A blown call by referees cost the luckless Irish a spot in the World Cup in a loss to star-studded France.

France's Thierry Henry

France's Thierry Henry

DUBLIN, Ireland — Soccer-mad Ireland is fighting mad — and demanding justice for a disputed goal that had fans here crying “Oui were robbed.”

A blown call by referees cost the luckless Irish a spot in the World Cup in a loss to star-studded France.

Ireland played the game of its life Wednesday night in a Paris stadium rocking to the cheers of visiting Irish fans. But with momentum on their side and facing a penalty shootout within minutes, the Irish saw the ball fall near their goal — and into the outstretched palm of celebrated French striker Thierry Henry.

He slapped it not once but twice, guiding it to his foot and passing to teammate William Gallas for the winning overtime goal. Ireland’s squad slapped their hands and some screamed “Handball, ref!”

Keeping your hands off the ball is the most basic rule in soccer, and endless replays demonstrated beyond doubt to billions worldwide that the goal should not have counted. But the Swedish referee, Martin Hansson, and his assistants claimed to see nothing wrong — inspiring fury and conspiracy theories on the wintry, rain-sodden streets of Dublin.

More than one Dublin tabloid christened it the “Hand of Frog” — wordplay using slang for a Frenchman and comparing the event to another handball, the goal by Argentina’s Diego Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. Asked afterward if he had touched the ball, Maradona said it had been guided by “the hand of God.”

Henry quickly came clean about his sleight of hand, well aware that no video review can keep him from soccer’s grandest stage in June.

“I will be honest. It was a handball,” Henry said. “But I’m not the ref. I played it. The ref allowed it.”

Some accused the Swiss-based world governing body of soccer, FIFA, of bending its rules to suit the sport’s big guns like France because of the money and markets involved. France, a country of 65 million, won the world championship in 1998 and were runners-up in 2006. Ireland, population 4.4 million, chronically struggles even to qualify.

“They do video replays in rugby, American football, tennis, you name it — but not the biggest of them all, the World Cup. You tell me why,” said Robbie Nolan, a cabbie nursing a pint after work in a sports-themed Dublin pub. “I’ll tell you why,” he said, jabbing his finger at the Dublin Evening Herald’s front page picturing Henry beneath the headline: “YOU CHEAT.”

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