Belfast Telegraph

Republic were robbed, says St Ledger

Defender Sean St Ledger admits the Republic of Ireland feel "robbed" after France's controversial winning goal in their World Cup qualifying play-off.

Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball before setting up his former Arsenal team-mate William Gallas to head Les Bleus into the finals in South Africa next summer.

Robbie Keane's goal had earlier cancelled out Nicolas Anelka's first-leg strike to take the tie into extra time.

St Ledger told Sky Sports News: "We got robbed, you can tell by the boys' reaction it hit his hand blatantly.

"We feel cheated - we were the better team over the two legs, every football fan in the stadium will say we were the better team tonight.

"It's cost a lot of us our dreams - as a boy I used to dream of playing in the World Cup, and now I'm not."

And the 24-year-old, on loan at Middlesbrough from Preston North End, called for video technology to be introduced to prevent such controversies in the future.

"I don't understand why we haven't got replays in this day and age," he continued.

"You can get replays within 10, 30 seconds and it would have helped today."

While St Ledger was critical of Henry for his part in the incident, he did not feel the forward's reputation in the game would suffer.

He added: "He's said it hit his hand accidentally but if you look at it you can clearly see it hits his hand twice.

"I'm not sure (his reputation) has been tarnished - it doesn't look great but he's got his team to the World Cup finals.

"If it had been one of our team we'd have probably done the same.

"The blame doesn't necessarily fall on him but he's handled it, everyone can see it around the world."

Striker Kevin Doyle felt the linesman on the far side of the pitch was the man responsible.

He told Sky Sports: "I don't know about the ref not seeing it, but the linesman had as good a view as anyone and him not seeing it is embarrassing."

But the Wolves man declined to blame Henry, saying: "It's instinctive and if you can get away with it... I'm sure he was expecting the (free-kick to be given) and I can't believe it's not been caught.

"I don't blame him, so much as it not being seen. It's difficult, we're playing in Paris in front of a big crowd and it's just difficult for us to get (what was) not even a 50-50 decision. He's caught it and pulled it back again.

"We had the better chances, we came at them and didn't let them settle.

"We played the better football over the two legs, and they got an own goal from 25 yards in the first leg (Anelka's strike which deflected off St Ledger) and that goal, which was just embarrassing."

Giovanni Trapattoni's side felt hard done by before the tie when the draw for the play-offs was seeded, leaving them facing France having come second to Les Bleus' fellow 2006 finalists Italy in Group Eight.

St Ledger added: "I don't know how you can change the rules halfway through the tournament just because some of the big teams are struggling.

"It's gone against us all the way through, none more so than tonight."

France winger Florent Malouda was delighted with his side's progress to South Africa but expressed sympathy for the opposition.

He said: "I think Ireland had more opportunities and our keeper (Hugo Lloris) made really good saves, if it was 2-0 or 3-0 we couldn't have come back, so we were lucky."

Malouda defended his team-mate over the incident, but insisted on Sky Sports: "I didn't see it - I was really far (away).

"I took the free-kick - but I could see from the reactions that there was a problem.

"He (Henry) tried to score and maybe the ball touched his hand - the referee didn't see it, we have to see on the replay if there was a hand.

"Tonight we are really happy because we have reached the World Cup but we think about the Irish - it was really unlucky for them."

Henry himself admitted he had handled the ball but laid responsibility for the goal being allowed at the door of referee Hansson.

"It was a handball, but I'm not the ref," he said on BBC Radio Five Live.

"The ball hit my arm, fell in front of me and I played it. The ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph