Ireland exasperated as an illegal goal sends France onwards

Ireland exasperated as an illegal goal sends France onwards

18/11/'09: France 1 - 1 (AET) Republic of Ireland (France won 2-1 on aggregate)
19th Nov 2009
World Cup Qualifer (play-off 2nd Leg)
France1-1Republic of Ireland
William Gallas 90 + 14Robbie Keane 33
Wednesday, 18 November 2009Paris, France

Ireland exasperated as an illegal goal sends France onwards

The Republic of Ireland were the victims of an outrageous injustice as France qualified for the World Cup finals of 2010 in South Africa as the result of a goal in the Stade de France that should have been disallowed because of handball.

France stumbled past a gallant Ireland with an extra time goal that edged them to an aggregate 2-1 win after a contest that was illuminated by an Irish performance that was heroic from every viewpoint.

France's lead goal from the first leg of the tie in Croke Park on Saturday gave them a crucial edge and made a mockery of Ireland's magnificent football in Paris.

Ireland struck a level that marked a major advance on what we had seen in this World Cup campaign and should, from every viewpoint, have carried them victoriously into the finals.

They dominated France for long periods of the game, created far more and far better scoring chances as they took inspiration from a Robbie Keane goal in the 33rd minute and won the match everywhere but on the scoreboard.

Exasperatingly, Ireland allowed their opportunities slip away and they paid a cruel price. They were left fuming helplessly as France snatched a goal fourteen minutes into extra time that denied Ireland even the consolation of a penalty shoot-out.

The manner in which the goal arrived deserves description for it was a travesty of justice that it should have been allowed stand.

It followed a free from substitute Malouda which was struck from 35 yards range and dropped to the left-hand edge of Ireland's six yards box. Henry bundled the ball past Paul McShane and in the process handled it twice.

The play was allowed go on and Henry knocked the ball across the goal past Shay Given for Gallas to head it into the net from one yard range.

Quite apart from the hand-ball there were several other infringements by the French. Two players were offside when Malouda struck the free and Richard Dunne's attempt to cut the ball off in the air was frustrated as Squillaci held him down by the shirt.

Somehow the referee and his assistant failed to see any of these fouls and allowed the goal stand. And despite long protests from the Irish players, France had rescued a result that presented them with passports to South Africa despite the evidence of the two matches which showed, conclusively, that they were second best.

The blunt truth is that France survived because of a lucky goal in the first leg that was deflected by an Irish defender into his own net and a goal in the second leg that should have been disallowed because of up to three infringements.

In contrast Ireland conjured up a glorious goal for Keane in the 33rd minute to highlight the fact that the challenge they faced inspired rather than intimidated them. In contrast it was France who were timid and fretful in face of Ireland's compelling performance.

They struggled to contain an Irish team who were calm and assured in their approach, calculating and skilful in their football and deserving of much more than to lose the tie to a disputed goal.

Yet, when the pain and disappointment of this experience eases, the players will look back at a succession of scoring chances that were spurned and they will be frustrated at their inability to turn their superior football to account.

It is only right to point out as well, however, that France's goalkeeper Lloris played magnificently and he was heroic for France. There were several occasions when he alone stood between Irish players and a goal and he stood firm under enormous pressure.

So Ireland were thwarted but as they leave the 2010 World Cup they can look back with pride on an outstanding campaign. The magnificent leadership provided by Giovanni Trapattoni, who led the team into competition without having had time to get to know his players, evoked a brilliant response from the squad.

They were presented with a huge challenge with the World Cup champions (Italy) and the runners-up from 2006 (France) offering substantial obstacles on the road to South Africa but they made light of that challenge and grew in stature as the competition evolved and the team developed.

Everything, it seemed was building to a peak for this play-off for Ireland were magnificent on the night and they produced a stellar performance on the most demanding stage of all.

To a man, the players were exceptional and while their disappointment must have tasted as bitter as a mouthful of soap in the immediate aftermath, they will surely grow from this experience and go on to build and excel in next season's European Championship.

France: Lloris; Sagna, Gallas, Escude (Squillaci 9), Evra; Anelka, Lassana Diarra, Alou Diarra, Gourcuff (Malouda 87), Henry; Gignac (Govou 56).

Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; John O'Shea (Paul McShane 67), Richard Dunne, Sean St. Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Liam Lawrence (Aiden McGeady 90 + 17), Glenn Whelan (Darron Gibson 63), Keith Andrews, Damien Duff; Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle.

Referee: Mr. M. Hansson (Sweden).