Henry's Hand-ball Against The Irish: Repercussions

For a nation not particularly known for its moral qualms - it once hailed a head-butting footballer as a hero - the French feel surprisingly chastened about their questionable qualification for next year's World Cup. Reactions to Thierry Henry's handball, which led to the goal that sent the national team to the South African finals at the expense of the hapless Irish, have ranged from embarrassment to outrage. The incident in Wednesday's game has been commented on in newspapers, on websites, and in cafes up and down France. It has even become of affair of state, with politicians weighing in. President Nicolas Sarkozy felt obliged to tell Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen that he felt sorry for his people. In an online poll for Le Monde, almost two-thirds of respondents agreed that the handball "discredits France's qualification". Le Parisien newspaper summarised the national mood: "The handball of Henry has brought a decisive contribution to the theme 'being French is being ashamed of one's national team'." In the leading sports newspaper L'Equipe, former France international Emmanuel Petit wrote that there was "nothing glorious" about the outcome, and that France should keep a "low profile". Former Manchester United hero Eric Cantona was even more outspoken in his indictment. "What shocked me most was that at the end of the match, in front of the television cameras, this player [Henry] went and sat down next to an Irish player to console him," Cantona thundered. "If I'd been Irish, he wouldn't have remained on the field for three seconds." Cantona also launched a stinging attack on national manager Raymond Domenech, calling him "the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI". Historical analogies have been wielded by several commentators. Jacques Attali, a former aide to the late President Francois Mitterrand, wrote on a website: "We are all Irish" - echoing a famous 2001 headline in Le Monde expressing solidarity with 9/11 victims: "We are all Americans". One minister spoke of "cowardly relief" following the dubious qualification - a phrase used after the 1938 Munich agreement signed by Hitler and Western allies.