Politicians target Domenech but federation stands firm

Football News - World Cup 2010 Football News

Thu, Nov 19th - AFP

PARIS, Nov 19, 2009 (AFP) - Leading French politician, Philippe De Villiers, joined a growing list of detractors of France coach Raymond Domenech Thursday as the country swayed between celebration and cheating shame.

The Republic of Ireland's hopes of taking their second leg World Cup qualifying playoff against France to penalties were scuppered late Wednesday by a controversial hand ball incident involving superstar Thierry Henry.

As Ireland threatened to take the crunch tie to penalties, the France captain handled the ball in the first period of extra time before providing the pass for a late equaliser.

After France's 1-0 win in Dublin last Saturday, the 1-1 draw at the Stade de France meant France qualified for the World Cup and Ireland crashed out.

Henry later admitted he had handled the ball, but played down the incident claiming the goal was valid because the referee did not see him.

While Henry and the French have been branded "cheats" by the Irish, the incident -- as well as France's lacklustre performance -- has got some politicians jumping on Domenech's back.

Hot on the heels of a tongue-lashing from French Minister for Sport Roselyne Bachelot, Domenech has now been told that he should be expressing regrets publicly to Ireland for the way the match concluded.

"Raymond Domenech should express his public regrets and show a gesture of dignity towards Ireland," said De Villiers, the president of the right-wing Mouvement Pour la France (MPF).

"The moral of this match is that you can cheat as long as you don't get caught. The France team is going to be labelled for years as a team of cheats."

Francois Bayrou, president of the MoDem Democratic Movement and a former candidate for the French presidency, said "in an ideal world, the match should be played again".

"I saw the match and like a lot of people I wasn't very proud, and like everyone else I asked why don't we have a video match official. It works in rugby and it works very well," Bayrou told AFP.

"I'm sure if the referee had asked Thierry Henry, he would have admitted that he handled the ball."

De Villiers also believes Henry -- widely regarded as one of the most fair-play, as well as talented, footballers in the world -- should have "owned up to the incident".

His sharpest barbs, however, were kept for Domenech.

"I always knew he was a bad coach, now he's shown himself to be a bad educator, as well as a bad winner.

"My thoughts today go out to all the coaches and teachers in sports schools who are supposed to teach fair-play to their students."

After the match, Domenech swerved deftly around the handball issue, emphasising the fact that France had "suffered during our qualifying campaign but succeeded in attaining our goal."

French Sports Minister Bachelot warned however that France had to buck up their ideas if they were to have any kind of success in South Africa next summer.

"We had a France team that was absolutely asphyxiated, which managed to get a draw due to a terrible refereeing error," she said.

"I really want to tell him: Raymond, you must rally yourself and your players because we, the French, are most worried and upset."

Amid the flak, Domenech was given a shoulder to lean on by the president of the French Football Federation (FFF), Jean-Pierre Escalettes.

He said Domenech, who has miraculously survived the chop several times in recent years, would survive the current controversy and lead the team through the finals.

"There's no issue here," Escalettes told French radio RTL.

"Can you imagine saying to Raymond, 'listen, thanks for qualifying us, it's nice but we're going to replace you with someone else for the World Cup?

"It's just not imaginable. To say that, you have to know nothing about sport."

He added: "It's nice of Roselyne to say that to Raymond ... I know that everyone wants France to succeed, but Raymond Domenech doesn't need anyone to tell him 'rally yourself and your players'."

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Politicians target Domenech but federation stands firm