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The hand of Henry

Lee Dixon
By Lee Dixon
Henry's former Arsenal team-mate

The manner in which the Republic of Ireland went out to France after Wednesday's World Cup play-off second leg was simply heartbreaking.

I played with Thierry Henry for six years at Arsenal and I can assure you he was as honest as the day is long.

Thierry Henry
Like Maradona, he knew exactly what he was doing and, for the Thierry I know, that is out of character

Lee Dixon

But people will look at his handball in the build-up to France's extra-time equaliser, which sent them to South Africa with a 2-1 aggregate victory, and say he's cheated.

He has been a truly great footballer - one of the best players we've ever seen in the Premier League - but now people will remember him for that goal against Ireland. It's really sad.

From listening to the radio this morning, I've already heard a lot of Arsenal fans saying Thierry's gone down in their estimations. It's unfortunate, but he's put himself in this position by a moment of madness.

When I first saw the goal I didn't spot the handball. It crossed my mind that the ball had moved in a funny angle and that Thierry was able to keep it in play given his body position. You thought to yourself, 'how did that happen?'.

It's clear what has happened: he's a striker in a dangerous position towards the end of a game and, in a split second, the ball has missed everybody, bounced to him and instinct has kicked in.

We've all done it on the pitch - the ball's gone past you, you're out of position, you stick your arm out, concede a free-kick and sometimes a yellow card.

So I'm not surprised at all he stuck his arm out in the first place. That is not blatant cheating. But the second part, when he scooped the ball back, is the deliberate bit and that's what will taint his reputation.

If you look at Diego Maradona's handball against England in the 1986 World Cup, that was not an instinctive movement.

That's a cheating movement and you look at the second movement of Thierry's hand and say it's deliberate. Like Maradona, he knew exactly what he was doing and, for the Thierry I know, that is out of character.


Thierry realised what happened and that's why he sat down with Dunne on the floor after the final whistle - you could see him telling Dunne what had happened.

He's in a really difficult situation but he's put himself in that position so let's not feel too sorry for him.

In a perfect world it would be lovely if players owned up to the referee in incidents like this but I can never see it happening.

There's so much riding on these games that the fear of owning up is bigger than keeping your silence.

Emmanuel Petit
By Emmanuel Petit
Henry's former Arsenal and France team-mate

The feeling among the French public on Thursday morning was one of embarrassment - we didn't want to qualify in controversial circumstances, we wanted to beat Ireland by playing within the rules.

Ireland should be very proud of how they performed in both legs of the play-off - they deserved more. We're pleased to be going to the World Cup but want to forget the second play-off as quickly as possible.

Football has the power to lead by example and shape values in society. More and more often now we see people cheating to get to reach their targets in life so Thierry's handball will not send out a good message.

That said, I don't think it will damage his reputation. Thierry has done so much in his career and this is a very rare indiscretion.

In 15 years of knowing him, he has behaved magnificently. I haven't seen him do anything badly wrong in his whole career so we can allow him one mistake.

It's similar to the situation with Zinedine Zidane - he's been sent off 14 times, some for things a normal person in the street might be in prison for. We always found an excuse for Zidane so why can't we find one for Thierry as well?

If this happened at the other end of the pitch for Robbie Keane, I'm sure he would have done the same.

There is a referee on the pitch and if he didn't see that's not France's problem.

Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry
Zidane has been sent off 14 times, some for things a normal person in the street might be in prison for - we always found an excuse for him so why can't we find one for Thierry as well?

Emmanuel Petit

Owning up is impossible. Some players could do that but most won't because the pressure and stakes are so high.

We had a case at Marseille in 1994 when there was corruption in French football but for the Marseille fans they see their team have won the European Cup and they don't care about how they did it. Human beings are like this.

For some players, if we did not qualify they would have been dead the following morning; their careers with the national team over.

With all of that mixed together, I can understand what Thierry did. But, on the other hand, I don't understand it because he would have preferred to score a normal goal.

Lee Dixon and Emmanuel Petit were speaking to BBC Sport's David Ornstein.

The moment Henry broke Irish hearts

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see also
Fifa turns down Irish replay plea
20 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Reaction to Republic of Ireland exit
19 Nov 09 |  Football
Anger on the airwaves in Dublin
19 Nov 09 |  Europe
Irish 'cheated' by Henry handball
19 Nov 09 |  Internationals
France 1-1 Rep of Ire (agg 2-1)
18 Nov 09 |  Internationals
World Cup qualifying as it happened
18 Nov 09 |  Football
Portugal secure spot at World Cup
18 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Republic of Ireland 0-1 France
14 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Lee Dixon's tactical view
09 Nov 09 |  Premier League

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