Thierry Henry is hands down one of the most famous names to emerge from football in the modern era. The Frenchman sealed his place in the football hall of fame with his legacy of goals and achievements for his clubs and country.
At one point in time, it would have appeared that Henry could do no wrong. He had an outstanding record – not just of goals scored, but of sportsmanlike conduct during his time on the pitch.
That was until the 18th of November, 2009…
2010 World Cup qualifiers…
On this particular date, France’s national squad played Ireland in the second round of qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The game would decide which of the two teams would be playing in the 2010 World cup finals.
It was the second of two aggregate matches, the first having been played just 4 days before.
France had won the opening exchange 1-0 at Croke Park, Dublin, giving them a one-away-goal advantage going into the second leg.
The second leg was played at Stade de France and would be remembered for the controversial actions of Thierry Henry…
France had qualified for the World Cup finals 12 times and had achieved 2 third-place finishes (1958 & 1986), a second-place finish (2006) AND a World Cup victory (1998).
In contrast, Ireland had qualified only 3 times by 2009 with their highest achievement in the tournament being an involvement in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals. They were beaten by Italy 1-0.
Ireland were playing for the chance of their 4th involvement in the World Cup finals against France in the aforementioned qualifying round. Going into the second leg 1-0 down and hosted in France, they needed to pull something out of the bag.
They did just that.
The comeback is on…
33 minutes into the first half and Irish legend, Robbie Keane, sinks one for his national team.
A lovely piece of wide passing play allows the ball to be dragged back to Keane, who slots it low past Hugo Lloris from the inside corner of the box. This away goal dead-levels the two teams.
Despite the dangerous French squad pushing hard to clinch a winner on home turf, the Irish gave better than they were given and the game reached the 90-minute mark deadlocked.
There was electric anticipation in the Irish segments of Stade de France, as their National squad looked tantalizingly close to securing involvement in their 4th World Cup finals.
That was all about to be (rather controversially) taken away from them…
With just a couple of minutes to go in the first half of extra time, Florent Malouda takes a free-kick just outside of the centre circle.
Thierry Henry is seen making a dynamic run into the left-hand side of Shay Given’s box and meets Malouda’s pass as it drops down.
This is where the Frenchman’s career experienced some turbulence.
Ireland do NOT qualify for World Cup 2010…
Upon attempting to take down the ball in the tight gap between the line and incoming defenders, Henry’s hand touches the ball TWICE as he tries to bring down the awkward bounce.
He controls the ball by doing so and flicks the ball across goal into the path of William Gallas, who heads it in instantly to take France ahead.
The handball was not seen by the referee, Martin Hansson, nor any of his officials, and the goal was allowed. The match officials also missed an offside that occurred in the same phase of play.
The game ended with the score at 1-1 (2-1 to France on aggregate) due to this error in officiating.
Ireland do not make it through to the World Cup finals in 2010.
The result naturally irked some strong Irish responses, with goalscorer and team captain, Robbie Keane, criticising the presidents of FIFA and UEFA following the upset.
Keane said, “ They’re all probably clapping hands, Platini sitting there on the phone to Sepp Blatter, probably texting each other, delighted with the result.”
Irish players generally did not hold Henry himself responsible for the incident, instead targeting officials for failing to pick up on the incident.
Winger, Damien Duff said of the incident “You can’t blame him (Henry). He’s a clever player – but you expect the ref to see it, it was blatant”
Many players, including Duff, felt that video technology should be brought in to professional football following the incident.
In 2018, 9 years on from Henry’s “hand of God”, we have VAR.
Many within the Irish ranks called for a replay of the game in the interest of fair play. On the 20th November 2009, this appeal was rejected.
FIFA’s statement was as follows “The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and those decisions are final.”
The decision to reject the replay appeal caused great upset to those involved, especially following Thierry Henry’s own admission of the foul in a post-match interview.
Henry said to a reporter after the match “Yes, there was hand, but I am not the referee. Toto was going for the front, I was behind two Irishmen, the ball ricocheted and hit my hand. Of course, I continued to play… The referee did not whistle ‘hand’ but I can’t say there wasn’t hand. The fairest solution would be to replay the game, but it is not in my control”
Following Henry’s statement and that of FIFA, another appeal was launched to arrange a replay of the game to “protect the integrity of the game worldwide”.
Again, this appeal was rejected and Ireland never got their chance at redemption for the 2010 World Cup Championships.
It was not a victory that was celebrated by the French, who clearly felt that the way they won their place in the Finals was questionable.
Patrice Evra, France’s left-back at the time, said “When we saw the replay in the dressing room, it was silence. There wasn’t laughing or anything like that. It was so weird because when you had the feeling like you just didn’t qualify for the World Cup because we were like ‘what’s going on?’ That room was like silence. There wasn’t any celebration. You would like to win in a better way”
Thierry Henry had made a mistake. That was true. As had the four officials who had failed to pull him up on his rather blatant handball that day.
It was safe to say that Irish fans were not going to be receiving Henry with a warm welcome any time soon.
Henry himself said “I was the Devil. It’s OK. I accepted it. Am I proud of it? No! Do I get abused by the Irish fans sometimes? Yes, I do.”
However, following the controversy around France’s 2010 World Cup qualification, things would turn sinister for the French megastar.
Henry received death threats and near-constant abuse for his actions in Paris that night. It is a sad fact that in the heat of the moment, the passion that flows through us when we support our club/country can cause people to forget that football is a game.
It is a privilege to be enjoyed, not the be-all and end-all.
So, to see a player and his family’s lives threatened as the result of a poor refereeing decision is NOT something that any of us would want to see in the beautiful game.
However, that is what happened following Ireland’s exit from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
Henry said “This is where it becomes difficult and I’m not saying this for people to say “Oh my God!” but after that, the abuse that I got – I received letters and death threats. My daughter had to go to school with a bodyguard for two weeks because I was scared – “We know where you live”
He also seriously considered quitting international football, turning back on this decision at the appeal of friends and family.
“Le hand of God”…
The incident, now labeled “The hand of frog” / “Le hand of God” (a twist on Diego Maradona’s infamous “hand of God” goal) stirred a huge media flurry and was the topic of discussion for a long while going into the World Cup in 2010.
France were drawn in group A for the 2010 World Cup, alongside Uruguay, South Africa and Mexico.
A group they were expected to win.
The French squad would fail to secure a single victory in their group matches, being knocked out with just 1 point to their name.
They drew their opening match against Uruguay 0-0 on the 11th June. This was followed by a shock 2-0 loss to Mexico on the 17th, and then an even more shocking 2-1 loss to hosts South Africa on the 22nd!
No doubt, the Irish would have been happy to see the French crash out of the group stages, considering how they got there in the first place.
To this day, it is perhaps the darkest stain on an otherwise impeccable career for the offender, Thierry Henry.
Not a player to cheat the beautiful game, luckily this blip on his record didn’t stop him from completing a stunning career that will forever be in the football hall of fame.
WATCH Thierry Henry’s BLATANT handball below!