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Ireland outraged after French handball nixes World Cup hopes

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thierry Henry handball leads to goal that crushes Ireland, sends France to World Cup
  • Famous handballs include Diego Maradona's "hand of God" from 1986 World Cup
  • Parodies show Henry as Michael Jordan; one fan torches photo of striker on YouTube
  • Irish justice minister demanding replay of match for "devastated young fans"

(CNN) -- Soccer star Thierry Henry became the villain of Dublin on Wednesday.

In the Irish national soccer team's most important game since October 2005, the Boys in Green saw their World Cup hopes dashed when the prolific French striker used his hand to control the ball near the goal -- not once but twice.

The ball appeared as if it might go out of bounds, but Henry palmed the ball to his feet and then flicked it with his right foot to former Arsenal teammate William Gallas, who buried a header and stamped France's ticket to the 2010 World Cup.

Irish goalkeeper Shay Given ran to the referee, pleading emphatically that Henry had cheated. Such cries -- from players, fans, even from the Irish justice minister -- only grew louder after the game.

"I will be honest. It was a handball, but I am not the referee," Henry said after the match at Stade de France in Paris.

It's not the first time a World Cup match result has hinged on a handball.

In the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, the United States cried foul when German Torsten Frings' hand appeared to keep a ball out of the net. American midfielder Gregg Berhalter's shot looked as if it crossed the line for a goal, but the referee said there was no goal and no handball. The U.S. national team lost 1-0, and Germany advanced to the semifinals.

Perhaps the most infamous handball came in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England. Argentine striker Diego Maradona and English goalkeeper Peter Shilton both converged on a ball near the goal. As each player leapt, Maradona lifted his hand and flicked the ball past Shilton into the net.

Video: Irish MP demands football rematch
Video: Ginola on Thierry Henry handball

Argentina beat England 2-1 and went on to win the World Cup. Maradona's goal, to this day, is known as "the hand of God."

Newspapers around the globe were calling Henry's goal "the hand of frog" on Thursday. Photoshopped images of Henry permeated the Internet. Several depicted him as a basketball player: Michael Jordan or a Harlem Globetrotter. Another parody showed him with three red balls aloft and the caption "Le Cirque de Francais: Juggler of the year 2009."

Irish fans flocked to YouTube to broadcast their displeasure. One burned a photo of the Gillette spokesman on camera.

"This is not racist. This is not anti-French. This is I don't like you, you cheating, robbing [expletive]," YouTuber teebanmingle said as he torched the picture of Henry. "You're a cheating, robbing, handballing [expletive], and I hope you get a career-ending [expletive] injury in the World Cup. Good night, and God bless."

Watch a former French player's reaction

The Dublin-based Independent newspaper ran more than five dozen letters from readers responding to the goal.

"A disgraceful injustice," read one. "Stolen game," another cried, and one more read, "I am gutted at this travesty."

One claimed to be written by a supporter of the French soccer squad.

"I am ashamed of this 'victory.' We love you!" it said.

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern entered the fray Thursday, saying in a statement that he was petitioning Ireland's governing soccer body to demand a rematch.

I am ashamed of this 'victory.' We love you!
--Purported French supporter in letter to Irish newspaper
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For the uninitiated, this is akin to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that the NFL make the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins play again because of a disputed fumble in the end zone.

Watch Ahern make his case

Ahern conceded that his chances were slim: "They probably won't grant it, as we are minnows in world football, but let's put them on the spot. It's the least we owe the thousands of devastated young fans around the country. Otherwise, if that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat, you will win."

Ireland's last foray into the World Cup was in 2002, when it lost to Spain on penalty kicks in the round of 16.

In qualifying for the following World Cup, Ireland lost an October 2005 match to Switzerland that would have advanced the Emerald Isle into the 2006 tournament. Instead, Switzerland and -- you guessed it -- France advanced to the World Cup.

France has qualified for the last four World Cups. It won the tournament for the first time in 1998 when it played host. "Les Bleus" were defeated in the finals of the 2006 World Cup after their star, Zinedine Zidane, was ejected for headbutting Italian Marco Materrazzi.

 
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