Lyon (AFP) – Both the Republic of Ireland and France camps have played down Thierry Henry’s infamous handball, but Irish fans will be hoping for revenge in Sunday’s Euro 2016 last 16 clash.
It was at the Stade de France in Paris on November 18, 2009 that Henry used his hand — twice — to control the ball in the buildup to William Gallas’ late goal.
The incident, dubbed ‘Le Hand of God’, helped seal France’s 2-1 aggregate win and left Irish fans feeling robbed of a 2010 World Cup place.
Both squads still contain players who were involved that night.
France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, defenders Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra and striker Andre-Pierre Gignac all started, while Moussa Sissoko and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda were unused substitutes.
For the Irish, Shay Given, John O’Shea, Glenn Whelan and Robbie Keane started the match, while Aiden McGeady came on in extra-time.
Both teams have claimed that the incident six years ago will have little bearing on Sunday’s tie in Lyon.
“A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then,” said France’s assistant coach Guy Stephan.
“Of course we have discussed it, but I honestly don’t think it will impact on the game.”
Irish boss Martin O’Neill took a similar line, but admitted his side’s ‘Green Army’ of supporters want revenge.
“I think we have decided to forget about it — that’s something coming from Ireland,” the Ireland boss said.
“It will be a talking point obviously, but I don’t think it will concern us when we play the game.”
The Irish have a few injury concerns.
Full-back Stephen Ward has an ankle injury from the 1-0 win over Italy that earned the last-16 berth and sat out Friday’s training.
Jon Walters has a sore Achilles tendon, but ran out with the team.
Robbie Brady wrote himself into Irish football folklore with the headed winner in the victory over Italy, the 24-year-old’s late effort sparking wild scenes of celebration in the stadium and at home.
“It makes me feel proud of where we come from and (for me) just to be a little part of the history of that is unbelievable,” said the Norwich City midfielder.
But Ireland’s assistant coach Roy Keane says his team will have to match their performance against Italy if they are to knock out the host nation at the Stade de Lyon.
“If they perform the way they did the other night, we’ll give ourselves a chance,” said the ex-Manchester United midfielder Keane.
“We were in there fighting, but we need energy.
“We need to close people down, win the ball back and when we do get it back, we need to take care of it.”
“We’ll roll our sleeves up and get on with it. We’ll be ready.”
– ‘Payet for president’ –
The prize on offer for the winner is a quarter-final against England or Iceland, who play on Monday.
France coach Didier Deschamps has been given food for thought in midfield.
A purposeful display in the goalless draw with Switzerland means Newcastle United midfielder Sissoko is pushing to keep his place at Blaise Matuidi’s expense.
Despite a low-key start to Euro 2016, Juventus’ Paul Pogba was one of the few French stars to shine against the Swiss as he hit the woodwork twice.
The profile of West Ham forward Dimitri Payet has gone through the roof in his host country, thanks to his goals in the wins over Romania and Albania.
In the wake of those performances, French magazine ‘Society’ has ran a cover with his head photoshopped on the body of France’s president Francois Hollande under the headline “Payet for president”.
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