Justice minister calls for replay

DUBLIN - The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) responded to national outrage on Thursday by calling on FIFA to order a replay of the controversial World Cup play-off against France.

Disappointed Irish fans woke up to newspaper headlines of "Le Cheat" and "The Hand of Frog" after striker Thierry Henry handled the ball in the build-up to the decisive goal on Wednesday that sent France to next year's finals.

The FAI said the extra time goal at the Stade de France, which gave France a 2-1 aggregate win and dominated news bulletins in Ireland all day, as well as being discussed in parliament, had "damaged the integrity of the sport."

Citing a decision to invalidate the result of a World Cup qualifier between Uzbekistan and Bahrain in 2005 as a precedent, FAI chief executive John Delaney said he was not calling for a replay simply out of principle.

"When you ask me is this clutching at straws, we have to do what we are doing. We have to do it. It is up to the people who govern the game now, if they really believe in the principals of fair play then step forward," Delaney said.

"Every time I go to congress it is all about fair play and fair play ambassadors.. .but well done is better than well said. They're words, I'd like to see actions," he said, adding that he had also written to the French FA on the matter.

The Irish government supported the call and Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he would discuss the matter with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Brussels where they were attending a meeting to decide on the European Union's first president. Earlier, Irish justice minister Dermot Ahern led the outcry for a rematch, a call that was backed by 95 percent of some 10,000 people who needed just 10 minutes to text their support to a radio poll run by national broadcaster RTE.

"It's the least we owe the thousands of devastated young fans around the country. Otherwise, if that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat, you will win," Ahern told Ireland's Newstalk radio station.

Elsewhere, a group calling itself Irish Fans For Justice said it would organise a protest at the French Embassy in Dublin on Saturday, urging fans to bring "placards, banners and noise." REPLAY IMPOSSIBLE

However, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni added a touch more realism into the debate, telling a news conference it would be impossible to replay the match.

"I cannot ask this because I know it is impossible. When a referee decides, it ends the game for me," he said.

The Italian instead criticised FIFA's late decision to seed the playoff draw and called on the ruling body to scrap extra time in similar games as it handed an advantage to the team drawn at home in the second leg.

While Ireland were understandably devastated, France were far from praised in the local media after William Gallas's goal booked their plane tickets to South Africa.

"The hand of God," screamed a headline on the front page of French sports daily L'Equipe, referring to Diego Maradona's infamous hand-made goal in a 1986 World Cup quarter-final.

"France have qualified for the 2010 World Cup, that's for sure, but the result, the most essential thing in sport after all, is not enough to erase the uneasy feeling we had last night," the newspaper wrote.

Keen to stop the matter descending into a diplomatic row, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said it was not up to either government to get involved in FIFA decisions.

"I will not hide to you the fact that I really preferred the first leg to the return leg," Fillon added to reporters.