Through the course of his long and distinguished career that saw Thierry Henry win almost all the major honours at both club and international level, he had a relatively spot-free record when it came to on-field infractions. Except for that one 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying play-off clash against Republic of Ireland.
France had drawn the Irish in their playoff clash for a spot in the 2010 World Cup due to be held in South Africa. Les Bleus played the first leg on 14th November, 2009 at Croke Park in Dublin and emerged 1-0 winners courtesy of a 72nd minute strike from former Real Madrid and Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka.
The slender win nicely set-up the reverse leg played at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis four days later. Robbie Keane struck in the 33rd minute to bring the tie level and with the result on the night 1-0 in favour of the Irish it meant that the match had to be extended into extra time in order to separate the two teams.
13 minutes into the first half of extra time, former Chelsea man Florent Malouda sent a free-kick towards the Irish goal, where Henry was making a run in the penalty area to Irish goalkeeper Shay Given’s right hand side. The ball bounced to the left of Henry towards the touchline and Henry used his hand twice to keep the ball in play before playing it towards William Gallas in front of an empty net as the defender headed it home to give his team a 2-1 aggregate lead in the tie.
Video courtesy Sean Nicko.
Martin Hansson, the Swedish referee, missed the blatant foul and awarded the goal much to the chagrin of Republic of Ireland players and officials who fiercely protested to the match officials but to no avail.
The game ultimately ended in a 1-1 draw on the night, but France progressed at the expense of the heart-broken Irish courtesy of a 2-1 aggregate win.
The Irish FA as well as the government registered their complaints to FIFA and demanded for a replay or to allow Republic of Ireland as a 33rd team at the 2010 World Cup, but nothing came off it.
On the other hand, Henry’s reputation was completely battered and the Frenchman later acknowledged that he contemplated retirement from international football in the aftermath of that game. Match referee Hansson also contemplated retirement following the hysteria that followed.
During the raging FIFA bribery scandals of 2015 it also emerged that football’s governing body had bought the Football Association of Ireland’s silence with a €5 million payment which would prevent any legal action against them.
In a statement, Henry acknowledged his mistake, and attributed his misdemeanour to heat of the moment.
“The fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control…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…I have said at the time and I will say again that ‘yes’ I handled the ball.
“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….As a footballer you do not have the luxury of the television to slow the pace of the ball down 100 times to be able to make a conscious decision.
“People are viewing a slow motion version of what happened and not what I or any other footballer faces in the game. If people look at it in full speed you will see that it was an instinctive reaction.”