France angered by seeding 'injustice'

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The Independent Online

France were today coming to terms with a double whammy after learning Thierry Henry could be banned for the start of the World Cup finals - and the country will not be seeded for the draw.

FIFA denied France were being punished for Henry's infamous handball in the play-off against the Republic of Ireland, saying the seedings based on October's world rankings represented the best teams in the world.

Henry could pick up a ban that would affect the start of next summer's finals after FIFA announced their disciplinary committee had opened proceedings against him for the handball.

Former France coach Michel Hidalgo claimed: "It is an injustice. I wonder if we do not pay for the hand of Thierry Henry."

But FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke - himself French - insisted there had been no agenda against Les Bleus.

Valcke said: "France qualified after additional matches and were not even first in their group. Why should playing more matches and gaining more points kick out England, who qualified with a good campaign? We used purely sporting criteria. France-Ireland was never part of the discussions."

The handball incident was the main subject of an emergency meeting of the FIFA executive committee in Cape Town today.

However, the body rejected a proposal - brought in response to the handball - to fast-track the experimental system of having five officials on the pitch, with two extra assistant referees behind each goal-line, for the World Cup.

Asked why they were making a special case of Henry when so many players commit handballs, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said: "This is a matter of the disciplinary committee and it's not a question of this player or another - it was blatant unfair play and was shown all around the world, but I don't know what the outcome will be.

"I have not said that Thierry Henry will be punished, I have said that Thierry Henry will be examined by the disciplinary committee of FIFA."

The handball led to William Gallas' decisive goal that ended Irish dreams of making the World Cup. The outcry has now led to FIFA being dragged kicking and screaming to announce an inquiry into the possibility of using technology or extra officials.

Blatter said the World Cup would come too soon to allow the inclusion of the system currently being trialled in the Europa League, and he was backed up by German executive committee member Franz Beckenbauer.

Beckenbauer told Press Association Sport: "Only referees in the Europa League will have used this system. Referees from Africa and South America and everywhere else would have had to arrive at the World Cup to use this new system for the first time and I don't think it is fair to ask that of them."

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