Republic of Ireland were eliminated from World Cup 2010 in very controversial fashion as Thierry Henry’s handball earned France a 1-1 draw and a trip to South Africa.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s team were beaten 1-0 in Dublin in the first leg of the qualifying play-off on Saturday, but they gave themselves every chance of going through when Robbie Keane put them ahead just after the half-hour mark at the Stade de France.
That was the way it stayed for the rest of normal time as the game went to extra time but William Gallas scored in the 104th minute after a blatant act of cheating from Henry, and Ireland were beaten.
Trapattoni kept faith with the 11 that ran France so close in the first leg and his players were a credit to him from the outset as they harried and hassled the home side and looked to get forward at every opportunity.
The French were forced into an early change when Julien Escude, only in the side because of an injury to Eric Abidal, had to be replaced by Sebastien Squillaci, but they were first to try their luck through Lassana Diarra and Thierry Henry’s long-range efforts.
However, it was Ireland that created the best opening in the 27th minute and Kevin Doyle really should have done better than glance wide Liam Lawrence’s superb cross into the box.
The visitors were on top by now, though, and it was no more than they deserved when Keane put them ahead six minutes later. Kevin Kilbane set Damien Duff away down the left and his cut-back was perfect for the Tottenham striker to convert from 12 yards.
Sean St Ledger got in the way of two shots to ensure Ireland took their lead into the interval, but they really should have extended it a couple of minutes into the second half when Lawrence expertly picked out John O’Shea from a free-kick wide on the left.
The Manchester United defender almost had too much time at the far post and, instead of heading across goal, he chested down and volleyed high over the bar from just a few yards out.
Nicolas Anelka eventually forced Shay Given into his first save of the night with a long-range effort in the 55th minute but the Republic continued to look the more likely to score and missed another clear-cut opportunity shortly after the hour mark.
Lawrence was again the architect, his through ball splitting the home defense and sending Duff clean through, but the winger failed to beat Hugo Lloris with his right-footed effort.
Henry then went straight up the end and forced Given into a good save, and the missed opportunity appeared to spur them on as Ireland, who brought on Darron Gibson for Glenn Whelan, were forced to defend in numbers.
Yet despite all of France’s pressure it was the visitors that went closest to another goal 10 minutes from time, with Lawrence this time playing in Keane, who rounded Lloris but ran out of pitch with the net gaping.
Ireland had to weather a storm to take the game to extra time and things did not get any easier once it was underway, with Anelka firing inches wide of Given’s post three minutes in.
Then, five minutes later, the Chelsea striker caused controversy when he went to ground after the slightest of touches from Given in an attempt to win a penalty.
Thankfully for the Irish, referee Martin Hansson was wise to the play acting, and the linesman was similarly eagle-eyed to spot Sidney Govou was offside when he volleyed home in the 103rd minute.
However, less than 60 seconds later Trapattoni and his players were badly let down by the officials. Florent Malouda lobbed a free-kick into the box, two French players were offside, but the real controversy came as Henry clearly handled not once but twice before squaring for Gallas to head in on the line.
How the infringement was not spotted is anyone’s guess but furious Irish appeals fell on deaf ears and a second-half rally never materialized as France sealed their place in the 2010 World Cup.