ZURICH - France striker Thierry Henry will not be punished over the handball which led to the decisive goal in the World Cup qualifying play-off against Ireland and sparked one of the biggest outcries in the competition's history.
A FIFA disciplinary committee decided there was no mechanism for punishing Henry over his part in the goal widely compared to Diego Maradona's so-called "Hand of God" effort for Argentina against England at the 1986 World Cup.
"The Disciplinary Committee reached the conclusion that there was no legal foundation for the committee to consider the case because handling the ball cannot be regarded as a serious infringement as stipulated in article 77a of the FIFA Disciplinary Code," world soccer's ruling body said in a statement.
"There is no other legal text that would allow the committee to impose sanctions for any incidents missed by match officials."
The decision is likely to whip up another storm over the incident and may increase pressure on FIFA to introduce technology to help referees or give officials more power to subsequently change obvious refereeing mistakes.
Television replays showed that Henry twice handled the ball before William Gallas bundled it over the line in extra-time of the second leg to give France a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate win in the November tie to reach the finals in South Africa.
In the controversy which followed, Ireland, already upset at a late FIFA decision to seed teams including France but not themselves for the play-offs demanded a replay, a request which was quickly turned down by FIFA.
The row gained political overtones when Irish fans protested outside the French embassy in Dublin.and French President Nicolas Sarkozy apologised to Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
"The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final," FIFA said at the time.
Ireland later asked FIFA president Sepp Blatter to consider giving them a 33rd place at the World Cup and were furious when he made the request public. Blatter later apologised.
Henry, who initially celebrated the goal, quickly apologised and admitted the handball.
"Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa," he said.
Labelled a cheat by some critics, he later told the French sports paper L'Equipe that he had considered quitting.
"The day after the match, and the day after that, I felt alone, really alone," he said.
Article 77a says that the disciplinary committee is responsible for "sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials' attention."
The other sections of the article say the committee can rectify obvious errors in the referee's disciplinary decisions, extend an automatic suspension incurred by a sending-off and impose additional sanctions such as a fine.
Few refereeing mistakes have caused so much heat since Maradona punched the ball into the net to give Argentina the lead against England in their 1986 World Cup quarter-final.
Nine years earlier, Scotland qualified for the 1978 World Cup with arguably an equally blatant handball against Wales.
Replays clearly showed that Scotland forward Joe Jordan punching the ball in the Wales' penalty area during their decisive qualifier, yet the Scots were awarded a penalty which they converted and set them up for a 2-0 win.
Unlike Henry and Maradona, Jordan, who kissed his fist as the referee pointed to the spot, escaped with almost no criticism.comments