Robbie Brady’s goal against Italy made Martin O’Neil craic a smile bigger than the River Shannon and brought Roy Keane to tears.
But seven years ago Republic of Ireland fans were crying tears of despair. William Gallas’ goal had just seen Giovanni Trapattoni’s side fall at the final hurdle in their bid to qualify for World Cup 2010.
A solitary goal had separated the two sides over 210 minutes of football. But, as all Ireland and France fans know only too well, that fails to tell the story of Le Hand of God.
Of all the players in France’s Euro 2016 squad only Hugo Lloris, Bacary Sagna, Patrice Evra and Andre-Pierre Gignac started in Dublin. Moussa Sissoko was an unused sub.
On the Irish side Shay Given, John O’Shea, Glen Whelan and Robbie Keane will have scores to settle.
Enigmatic playmaker Yoann Gourcuff linked up with Nicolas Anelka in the 72nd minute to settle the game. It was a flukey goal which summed up a nervy game as Anelka’s shot took a wicked deflection off Sean St Ledger to spin past Given.
But the Irish headed to the Stade de France safe in the knowledge they were still in the game.
Julien Escude came in for Sebastien Squillaci in the heart of the French defence in the only change from either side.
But the Sevilla man could do nothing when Damien Duff’s pull back found Keane who slotted low to the left of Lloris with Fabien Barthez and Zinedine Zidane watching on from the crowd. 1-1. Game on.
Neither side could be separated within normal 90 minutes, so the game went to extra-time. France threw on Florent Malouda and Sidney Govou, leaving Karim Benzema on the bench, while the Irish had the jinky feet of Aiden McGeady in reserve.
Le Hand of God
With 102 minutes and 23 seconds on the clock Florent Malouda clipped a free-kick into the Irish penalty area from 45 yards out.
The ball drifted over Richard Dunne’s head, under pressure from an offside Squillaci. Paul McShane reacted late and the ball bounce towards Henry.
Henry instinctively stuck out a hand before squaring the ball to Gallas who headed into an open net. The Irish player simultaneously appealed but their complaints fell on deaf ears.
Henry issued a statement in which he claimed he was ’embarrassed’ and backed the idea of a replay although he denied cheating.
He was talked out of retiring and went to the World Cup with France after calls for a replay were ignored.
But he may wish he’d stayed at home. As in the 2002 World Cup France went out in the group stages without winning a game, drawing to Uruguay and losing to Mexico and South Africa.
Infighting ripped French football apart, with players refusing to train and Anelka, Evra, Jeremy Toulalan and Franck Ribery all handed suspensions by the French Football Federation.
For Ireland it will always be a question of ‘what if?’. Now seven years later the Emerald Isle has a chance of revenge. And you better believe Roy Keane is reminding everyone of their responsibilities.
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