Thierry Henry

Like any great footballer, Henry’s career is not without controversy.  The qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup proved to be a very trying and controversial time in Henry’s career.  After a relatively impotent qualifacation run for the French for 2010 South African World Cup, France was forced to play in the play-off match against Ireland to decide the last spot.  France won the first leg in Ireland off of a deflected goal by Nicolas Anelka.  It was an unimpressive performance by Les Bleus, and expectations were high as they brought the final leg back to the Stade de France.  This was the home of French football, and everyone in attendance was looking for a statement victory by the French.  But things things began to go haywire when Damien Duff cut back from the byline and sent a ball into the box for Robbie Keane to lash onto.  Keane made no mistakes and rocketed the ball past French keeper Hugo Lloris’s outstretched hand.  The tie was now level, and the French knew if Ireland scored again, they would effectively miss out on the World Cup.  The second half was a similar story, with the French pushed back under an Irish onslaught, and the men up front having very little to do.

With the match going into extra time, the French had an injection of pace with the introduction of Sidney Govou and Florent Malouda.  Les Bleus began to make more endeavoring runs, and they were rewarded with a free-kick outside of the area.  The ball was floated in to the onrushing Henry, who crossed it across the box to Gallas who headed home.  The French were ecstatic, but the Irish were incensed.  They were screaming for offsides and handball!  As the television showed the replay of the goal, people around the world were dumbstruck as they saw Henry handle the ball not once, but twice before setting up the cross for Gallas.  It was a blatant handball, and one that sealed the door on the Irish dreams of making it to the World Cup.

 “I handled it, I admit it, but I’m not the referee.”

The media blitz after the match was incredible and fierce.  Henry was instantly labeled as a cheat, and he became one of the most hated figures in sports.  Trying to restore some of his image Henry released a statement saying,

“I am not a cheat and never have been. It was an instinctive reaction to a ball that was coming extremely fast in a crowded penalty area…. Naturally, I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.”

Fifa continued to reject approaches from the Irish Football Association, instead saying that an investigation would be launched into the matter.  Henry also told reporters that his family had been threatened in the aftermath.[1}  Not all of the fallout was bad however.  The debate over video technology was again raised, and now more than ever, supporters have real firepower and evidence to use to promote their views.  Whatever the case, the event took away some of the French team’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and it will surely be a long time before the footballing world forgives Henry.


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