Henry rips prize from Irish grasp

France 1 Republic of Ireland 1 (Aet; score at 90 min 0-1; France win 2-1 on aggregate)
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The Independent Football

Ireland awakes this morning trying to avoid the paranoia and anger felt by Giovanni Trapattoni and his players leaving the Stade de France last night.

They had tried to leave those feelings aside before this World Cup play-off with France after Fifa's shameful decision to move the goalposts meant Ireland would have to encounter a global heavyweight to achieve their South African dream.

Alas, the goal which booked France's ticket merely not only brought back those feelings of injustice but multiplied them a thousand times over. They were cheated in extra time after the best 90-minute performance from an Irish team in many years to bring this play-off all the way. With better finishing, they could have wrapped it up beforehand.

The moment will be replayed in their minds for some time. An innocuous free-kick drifting over the goal-line with Thierry Henry the wrong side of Paul McShane. The hand of the French captain keeps it in play with a double hop followed by a poke across goal for William Gallas to bundle the ball into the empty net. A shattering setback from which Ireland could not recover. The Swedish referee Martin Hansson waved the protests away.

It was a traumatic end to a special night at Stade de France with both sets of supporters creating a frenzied atmosphere that was mirrored in the nervous, early exchanges.

Raymond Domenech had been hesitant to upset the apple cart with his team selection. Julien Escude surprisingly got the nod ahead of his Seville team-mate Sebastian Squillaci to replace Eric Abidal in central defence but within nine minutes, a clash of heads made the decision irrelevant with the stricken Escude replaced by Squillaci.

France responded, with Nicolas Anelka particularly prominent, but they lacked cohesion with the Irish getting in their faces and refusing to allow them to relax. With André-Pierre Gignac suffering a night to forget and Yoann Gourcuff a tad overawed at this point, it was the white shirts who were in the ascendancy.

From the midpoint of the half, they turned the screw. Liam Lawrence chose the wrong option in crossing when he should have taken a pop before taking the right option shortly after with a pinpoint cross that Kevin Doyle flicked wide with the French centre halves caught in a muddle.

Ireland paid for the profligacy last Saturday. This time they kept coming back. After a superb interception from O'Shea to deny Anelka at one end, they gathered their composure and moved forward with purpose. Damien Duff, who rolled back the years in the first half with a busy display, rolled the ball to Kevin Kilbane, who expertly returned the favour with Bacary Sagna caught napping. France were stretched and Duff pulled the ball into the six-yard box, where Keane had spun away to find space and slot past the outstretched arms of Hugo Lloris.

After maintaining the intensity, Ireland went into the interval on target with the locals howling angrily. They expected their charges to repeat their first-leg endeavours and come out stronger. Alas, Ireland should have accrued a second goal immediately after the resumption when Keane was fouled and Lawrence's delivery found the unmarked O'Shea, who controlled well before blasting into orbit.

It was the French who became the counter-attacking side. It was a worrying period for the Irish but, out of it, they created a golden chance to grab a second with Keane capitalising on French dithering, and Lawrence ghosting in to brilliantly release Duff, who was left with just Lloris to beat. The ground held its breath, and the French keeper stood his ground with the Irishman firing straight at his feet.

Keane was then again the culprit with the hopeless home rearguard outfoxed by a Lawrence slide rule pass. Lloris advanced and rather than shooting, Keane tried to skip around the Frenchman's giant frame. He succeeded but ran out of pitch.

The Irish back four stuck loyally to percentage and opted for touch when necessary. Sean St Ledger and Richard Dunne were throwing their bodies at everything and held out in a dramatic scramble as the match entered extra time with the visitors believing this could be their night. Instead, it would belong to controversy.

France Lloris; Sagna, Gallas, Escude (Squillaci, 9) Evra; Lassana Diarra, Alou Diarra, Gourcuff (Malouda, 90); Anelka, Gignac (Govou, 59), Henry. Substitutes not used: Mandanda (gk), Remy, Sissoko, Benzema.

Republic of Ireland Given; O'Shea (McShane, 65), St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane; Lawrence, Whelan (Gibson, 63), Andrews, Duff; Doyle, Keane. Substitutes not used: Joe Murphy (gk), McGeady, Kelly, Hunt, Best.

Referee: M Hansson (Sweden).

0

Number of teams to have won the World Cup after qualifying for the tournament through a play-off.

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