Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blatter breaks silence to reveal Henry support

PARIS (AFP) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has revealed that he telephoned France captain Thierry Henry to offer him support over his controversial handball in the World Cup play-off win over Ireland.

"I called Thierry, because he tried to get in touch with me," Blatter said, as reported in Sunday's edition of the L'Equipe sport newspaper.

"He was honest by admitting that he did use his hand, but it wasn't his responsibility to tell the referee.

"When I was a centre forward in my junior team, I definitely gained an advantage by pulling a defender's jersey in order to score a goal. And I didn't go and see the referee to tell him about it."

The FIFA chief had previously refused to comment on the incident, prompting criticism from Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney.

Blatter added: "In the specific case of the Henry handball, the referee (Martin Hansson) should have taken the time to reflect rather than immediately awarding the goal."

France's play-off with Ireland was poised at 1-1 on aggregate in the second leg in Paris when Henry controlled the ball with his hand before teeing up William Gallas for the decisive goal, sparking furious protests from the Irish players that were taken up by the Irish government.

Henry's international colleague Karim Benzema also spoke out in defence of his under-fire team-mate.

"I don't think he's a cheat. We mustn't forget everything that he's done for the France team," Benzema said on the TF1 football programme Telefoot broadcast on Sunday morning.

Asked if he realised that Henry had handled the ball in the build-up to Gallas's goal, the Real Madrid striker replied: "No, I didn't know."

"You know, you don't know (how you would react in that situation), it happens quickly," he added.

Henry and Benzema will be on opposing sides in the first 'El Clasico' of the Spanish season on Sunday evening, when Benzema travels to face Barcelona with Real Madrid.

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