Superstar Thierry Henry was at the centre of a sensational World Cup cheating storm on Wednesday as France reached the 2010 finals in South Africa along with Portugal, Greece and Slovenia.
France, the 1998 champions and 2006 runners-up, drew 1-1 with Ireland at the Stade de France here in the second leg of their play-off for a 2-1 aggregate win.
But the extra-time triumph came in controversial circumstances when French skipper Henry appeared to control the ball with his hand before his angled pass allowed William Gallas to head in the crucial 103rd-minute goal.
Ireland, who had deservedly levelled the tie through Robbie Keane's 32nd-minute goal and were unfortunate not to win in regulation time, protested desperately, but in vain, to match referee Martin Hansson.
“Yes, there was a hand, but I'm not the referee,” said Henry. “Of course, I kept playing. The referee didn't whistle for handball. I was behind two Irish players, the ball bounced and it hit my hand.”
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni was furious. “You could see the referee hesitate and look at Henry. He could have asked him what he thought. If the referee had asked Henry, he would have said: 'Yes, it was handball',” said the Italian.
Ireland defender Sean St Ledger was adamant that his country had been cheated.
He said, “We got robbed, you can tell by the boys' reaction it hit his hand blatantly.
“We feel cheated — we were the better team over the two legs, every fan in the stadium will say we were the better team tonight.”
Meanwhile, a 56th-minute strike by Raul Meireles broke Bosnian hearts and sent Portugal to the finals 1-0 on the night and 2-0 on aggregate.
Guus Hiddink, who took South Korea to the 2002 semi-finals, will be missing in 2010 after Slovenia beat his Russian side 1-0 to qualify on the away goals rule. Zlatko Dedic scored the only goal.
In Donetsk, Greece beat Ukraine 1-0 to book a World Cup finals place for the first time since 1994. Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpingidis netted the only goal.