'Hand' of Fate Ends Ireland's World Cup Hopes FIFA Allows Controversial Goal; French Say 'Non' to a Replay

Paris is known for many things - wonderful walks along the Seine, breathtaking views from the Eiffel Tower, and relaxing afternoons in the city's innumerable cafes.

But for Irish soccer fans, none of that matters. Liberté, égalité and fraternité? Forget about it.

Paris is no different now than such non-descript locations as Orlando, Skopje, or Nicosia - all places were Ireland's previous football campaigns came to bitter ends.

The latest chapter, however, featured perhaps the cruelest twist of fate. Before a heaving Stade de France on Nov. 14, the underdog Irish were tied with mighty France, 1-1, on aggregate, placing the Boys in Green within shouting distance of the 2010 World Cup.

But in extra time and playing with plenty of momentum, Giovanni Trapattoni's troops were suckered punched by French striker Thierry Henry. With an estimated half billion fans watching worldwide, Henry twice handled the ball in the penalty box to keep it in play before centering it in front to William Gallas for an easy tap in. Shockingly, Swedish referee Martin Hansson allowed the goal to stand, sealing qualification for the French and unleashing a national outrage by the Irish.

In response, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) immediately lodged a complaint, insisting on a replay. And support for such an idea came from all corners - including Henry himself. With FIFA back on its heels, the Irish appealed to the French Football Federation for a replay but were turned down

"Despite our best efforts for a replay, which would have restored the integrity of the game in front of a worldwide audience, our calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears," said FAI chief executive John Delaney. "The credibility of fair play has been damaged by this incident in front of a large worldwide audience."

Amazingly, there was actually a good chance that a replay would have occurred if not for the intervention of French coach Raymond Domenech. According to reports, the FAI had been privately assured by FIFA that it would have allowed a replay to take place if France would agree. In fact, FIFA would have welcomed the chance to demonstrate that their commitment to fair play and integrity was more than just rhetoric. However, Domenech refused to sanction the replay - despite the overwhelming backing of the French squad, the French public, and key figures within the federation.

Afterward, an irate Trapattoni accused FIFA of "treachery," adding that the fourth official had even informed the referee of the offense. "Even a blind man would have seen the double handball. The linesman was on line as the images show and he had perfect vision. I am certain that the referee was in contact with the fourth official and to those who were looking at the images in slow motion," he said.

Attention Shifts to Rugby

Much of the nation's focus will now to turn to the upcoming Six Nations rugby tournament. Ireland opens defense of its title on Sat., Feb. 6, against Italy at Croke Park. A week later, the Irish will take on host France. After playing England at Twickenham on Feb. 27, the Irish will close out the campaign with home dates against Wales (March 13) and Scotland (March 20). Declan Kidney's troops began preparation for Six Nations play with a series of fall tests. On Nov. 13, the Irish roughed up Tonga 48-19 and drew with powerful Australia, 20-20, on Nov. 15. Ireland then made quick work of Fiji, 41-6, on Nov. 20 with debutant Jonathan Sexton booting 16 points.

Congratulations to former Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan, who led the United States to a berth in 2011 Rugby World Cup with a 54-28 aggregate victory over Uruguay. The U.S. secured a berth in Pool C in New Zealand, where they will meet Australia, Ireland, Italy, and another European qualifier.

In club rugby, the Heineken Cup returns to action this month. In a battle for first place in Pool 1, Munster takes on Perpignan on Dec. 12 , while in Pool Six, Leinster hopes to overtake pacesetters Scarlets on the same date.

Bohs win title, Derry out of league - Well, say this about the League of Ireland (LoI), it's never a dull moment. As predicted, North Dublin-based Bohemians defended their title, nipping Shamrock Rovers at the wire. The Bohs posted a 24-5-7 final record (62 goals for, 21 against) to finish with 77 points - 4 more than Rovers (21-10-5). Cork finished a distant third (60 points, 17-9-10). UCD, as first division winners, were automatically promoted as was Sporting Fingal following their playoff win over now-relegated Bray Wanderers.

While the final matches were playing themselves out, the FAI discovered that Derry City had illegally signed numerous players to secondary and unofficial contracts, which is against FIFA rules. As a result, the Candystripes were sensationally thrown out of the LoI. Following the resignation of the club's board of directors, the Derry City players are now considered free agents and the club has been encouraged to reapply for a license to play in the First Division.

The Notebook: With one third of the season gone, Chelsea has placed itself in the lead position to capture the English Premier League with a league-leading 33 points on an 11-0-2 record. Having outscored their opponents by 33-8, the Blues sit five-points ahead of Manchester United (28 points, 9-1-3 record). While these two heavyweights battle for the top spot, the rest of the league will fight for European places next year. … Up in Scotland, both Rangers and Celtic continue to show how far the SPL has fallen by tossing points away. The Rangers (25 points, 7-4-0) hold a one-point lead over the Bhoys (24, 7-3-2), with the rest of the league ready to pounce on the once-powerful duo.

Finally, a happy and safe holiday season to all our loyal Boston Irish Reporter readers.