'Handball' Henry puts France in World Cup, Russia crash
Superstar Thierry Henry was at the centre of a sensational World Cup cheating storm on Wednesday as France reached the 2010 finals in South Africa along with Portugal, Greece and Slovenia.
PARIS - France, the 1998 champions and 2006 runners-up, drew 1-1 with Ireland at the Stade de France here in the second leg of their play-off for a 2-1 aggregate win.
But the extra-time triumph came in controversial circumstances when French skipper Henry appeared to control the ball with his hand before his angled pass allowed William Gallas to head in the crucial 103rd-minute goal.
Ireland, who had deservedly levelled the tie through Robbie Keane's 32nd-minute goal and were unfortunate not to win in regulation time, protested desperately, but in vain, to match referee Martin Hansson.
"Yes, there was a hand, but I'm not the referee," said Henry. "Of course, I kept playing. The referee didn't whistle for handball. I was behind two Irish players, the ball bounced and it hit my hand."
The Barcelona star insisted that the controversy, which prompted Irish players to declare they were robbed of a World Cup finals place, would not take the gloss of his team's qualification.
"No, no. We have qualified."
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni was furious.
"You could see the referee hesitate and look at Henry. He could have asked him what he thought. If the referee had asked Henry, he would have said: 'Yes, it was handball'," said the Italian.
Ireland defender Sean St Ledger was adamant that his country had been cheated.
He told Sky Sports News: "We got robbed, you can tell by the boys' reaction it hit his hand blatantly.
"We feel cheated - we were the better team over the two legs, every fan in the stadium will say we were the better team tonight."
Meanwhile, in Zenica, a 56th-minute strike by Raul Meireles was enough to break Bosnian hearts and send 2006 semi-finalists Portugal through to the finals 1-0 on the night and 2-0 on aggregate.
Meireles took a pass from Manchester United star Nani and slipped a low, precise shot past Kenan Hasagic in the Bosnian goal to settle the tie.
"These marathons are only over after the final whistle and I want to thank my players for showing such spirit," said Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who was once again without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player.
Bosnia, trying to reach the World Cup for the first time, had midfielder Sejad Salihovic red-carded late in the game while a linesman was struck by an object thrown from the crowd.
Guus Hiddink, who famously took South Korea to the 2002 semi-finals, will be missing from South Africa after Slovenia beat his Russian side 1-0 in Maribor to qualify on the away goals rule.
Striker Zlatko Dedic scored the only goal just before the break.
Russia had won the first leg 2-1 in Moscow on Saturday, but Nejc Pecnik's goal two minutes from time gave Slovenia hope for Wednesday's return and they seized their chance to reach their first finals since 2002.
Hiddink's side ended the match with nine men after Alexander Kerzhakov and Yuri Zhirkov were both red-carded.
"My team have continued the Slovenian football fairytale," said Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek. "They have become immortal."
In Donetsk, Greece beat Ukraine 1-0 to book a World Cup finals place for the first time since 1994.
Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpingidis netted the only goal of the match for the 2004 European champions following Saturday's 0-0 draw in the first leg in Athens.
In total, 13 European nations will play in the 32-team World Cup finals with the draw set for Cape Town on December 4.
Netherlands, England, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Serbia, champions Italy, Switzerland, Slovakia, Greece, Slovenia, Portugal and France make up Europe's representation.Dave James/AFP/Expatica