Domenech refutes cheating claims

PARIS - France coach Raymond Domenech admits his side qualified for next year's World Cup thanks to a refereeing error but dismissed claims of cheating and does not feel compelled to apologise.

The French drew with Ireland in Paris on Wednesday to secure a 2-1 aggregate victory in their play-off but William Gallas' extra-time equaliser has been condemned following Thierry Henry's blatant handball in its build-up.

"On the pitch, I didn't see the handball," Domenech told the website of French weekly L'Express in an interview.

"I have since looked at the footage and it is indeed a refereeing mistake. For me, it's a game incident and not cheating. Therefore, I don't see why we are asked to apologise," he added."

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) called for FIFA to order a replay and while French President Nicolas Sarkozy has apologised to Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen for the controversial win, he would not agree to a replay.

On Friday, FIFA issued a statement saying the match could not be replayed.

"Nobody apologised when the referee sent off our goalkeeper (Hugo Lloris) in a match against Serbia (earlier in the campaign) after he had not committed any offence," Domenech said.

"For me, qualification was decided in the first leg (which France won 1-0 at Croke Park) which people tend to forget today."

DOUBLE STANDARDS

"I don't understand this form of moralism," Domenech added.

"I can understand it is frustrating and unpleasant to lose a match on such an error. I also understand the anger of the Irish and if I were them, I would have also shouted it was a scandal.

"But we are not going to commit (suicide) because the referee made a mistake in our favour this time.

"That kind of gesture can happen. When it's (Diego) Maradona, everybody says 'it's extraordinary' and he scored straight with his hand. I don't see why there should be double standards.

"I don't mind if we suddenly ask Thierry (Henry) to wear a crown and angel wings by saying there was a foul, but then we must ask the same from everybody."

Domenech admitted the controversy had taken a shine off the team's qualification but insisted they should not feel guilty.

"Again, we won the game in Dublin and that doesn't sound immoral to me," he added.

"I think all those who love that France team are happy we have qualified.

"Me too, of course, even if there is a slightly bitter taste because this joy is marred by a bad game from the players and the referee and also by the reaction from the media.

"I don't understand why we are presented as guilty."