The global Irish football family is inconsolable after a blatant hand ball by French superstar Thierry Henry created a goal for Arsenal’s William Gallus that put Ireland out of the World Cup.
The French goal came in the second period of extra time after Robbie Keane had fired Ireland back into contention with a fine goal on 33 minutes.
That made the score 1-1 on aggregate after Nicolas Anelka’s deflected goal in the first leg.
But the home-side celebrated the crucial winner despite loud protests from th heartbroken Irish camp.
Defender Sean St Ledger said the Republic of Ireland feel “robbed” after France’s controversial winning goal in their World Cup qualifying play-off.
Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball before setting up his former Arsenal team-mate William Gallas to head Les Bleus into the finals in South Africa next summer.
St Ledger told Sky Sports News: “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 football fan in the stadium will say we were the better team tonight.
“It’s cost a lot of us our dreams – as a boy I used to dream of playing in the World Cup, and now I’m not.”
And the 24-year-old, on loan at Middlesbrough from Preston North End, called for video technology to be introduced to prevent such controversies in the future.
“I don’t understand why we haven’t got replays in this day and age,” he continued.
“You can get replays within 10, 30 seconds and it would have helped today.”
While St Ledger was critical of Henry for his part in the incident, he did not feel the forward’s reputation in the game would suffer.
He added: “He’s said it hit his hand accidentally but if you look at it you can clearly see it hits his hand twice.
“I’m not sure (his reputation) has been tarnished – it doesn’t look great but he’s got his team to the World Cup finals.
“If it had been one of our team we’d have probably done the same.
“The blame doesn’t necessarily fall on him but he’s handled it, everyone can see it around the world.”
The failure of the officials to spot the handball casts a further shadow on the play-offs. For the first time, FIFA seeded the European play-offs, sending a clear message that they wanted Portugal, France, Greece and Russia in the finals next year over Bosnia, Ireland, Ukraine and Slovenia.
They got three out of four.
But some commentators have gone as far as suggesting that Henry, one of the world’s best players, almost dared the official to call his blatant handball.
Victory over the course of the tie spared France manager Raymond Domenech further abuse, although when the dust settles, his critics may be far from appeased.
Keane had been at pains to insist at Ireland’s pre-match press conference at the Stade de France that the tie was far from over, but few outside the Irish camp were completely won over by his optimism.
However, by the time the half-time whistle sounded, the men in green both on and off the pitch were starting to believe.
Lassana Diarra’s assertion in Dublin, which caused such consternation, that the tie was over, proved hugely inaccurate as the French turned in an insipid display in which they enjoyed far less possession than they did at Croke Park and did virtually nothing with it.
Republic keeper Shay Given was a virtual spectator for much of the half, and as the men in front of him grew in confidence, it was the visitors who started to make an impression.
Patrice Evra had already had to climb high to prevent Liam Lawrence from connecting with Duff’s 18th-minute cross and the Stoke midfielder, once again preferred to Aiden McGeady on the right, was in the thick of the action once again six minutes later.
He met Kevin Doyle’s cross at the far post to head the ball down for Keane and only the vigilance of keeper Hugo Lloris, who rushed from his line to punch clear before the striker could pounce, spared France.
There was panic among Les Bleus once again with 26 minutes gone when Lawrence crossed from the right and Doyle glanced a header across the face of goal.
It was all very encouraging for the Irish, and their prayers were answered 13 minutes before the break.
Duff was gifted acres of space on the left to make his way to the goal-line before looking up and picking out Keane with the perfect pass.
The striker gleefully side-footed the ball past Lloris and into the bottom corner to set France back on their heels and blow the tie wide open.
Domenech’s side attempted to respond but their reaction was lukewarm, and the home crowd, having booed both their own manager and President
Nicolas Sarkozy when their respective images appeared on the stadium’s big screens, repeated the dose as the teams left the pitch at the break.
Their mood would have taken a significant turn for the worse had Ireland made the most of a glorious opportunity within two minutes of the restart.
Giovanni Trapattoni and his players had spoken repeatedly about France’s perceived weakness from set-pieces in the run-up to the tie, and they had been disappointed not to exploit it at Croke Park on Saturday.
But they very nearly did just that when Lawrence curled a 47th-minute free-kick to the far post where the unmarked O’Shea, perhaps astonished to be given so much time and space, controlled on his chest only to volley high over.
Once again the French response was tepid, and although Given was called upon to make his first real save with 54 minutes gone, Anelka’s long-range effort never troubled him.
But as the home side pushed men forward, they became increasingly vulnerable, and Trapattoni’s men were presented with a gilt-edged opening with 61 minutes gone.
Lawrence’s defence-splitting pass put Duff in on goal, but the winger was denied by the impressive Lloris as he pulled off yet another vital stop.
Anelka glanced a header wide at one end and Keane rounded Lloris but could not get in a shot at the other as the game became increasingly frantic.
Given had to claw away an Anelka cross deep into injury time, but Ireland more than deserved their extra 30 minutes.
However, Ireland’s luck deserted them 13 minutes into extra-time when Henry handled Florent Malouda’s delivery before crossing for Gallas to score