Blatter insulted Ireland, apology accepted - FAI

BRUSSELS Wed Dec 2, 2009 7:42pm GMT

FIFA president Sepp Blatter speaks during a news conference in Mexico City November 9, 2009. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

FIFA president Sepp Blatter speaks during a news conference in Mexico City November 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Daniel Aguilar

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Ireland's football chief reluctantly accepted FIFA president Sepp Blatter's apology over his handling of Ireland's controversial World Cup elimination and said soccer's top official had insulted the country.

Blatter apologised to Ireland Wednesday for revealing that the country's football association had asked for a 33rd place at next year's World Cup in South Africa during a meeting at the world governing body last Friday.

"FIFA and Blatter in particular were not seen for weeks and it was us who looked for the meeting which I want to stress was confidential and should have stayed confidential," Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"I am disappointed with the way Sepp Blatter has behaved. He did insult our country. The fans know it, the players know it, and he knows it. He has apologised and I suppose we just have to accept the apology.

"But a man in Blatter's position should have known better. He should behaved in a more appropriate manner," Delaney said.

Blatter said he regretted telling a football business conference that the Irish made a request for an additional place because they felt they were cheated out of a World Cup place by a handball by Thierry Henry that led to an aggregate winning goal for France in their European zone playoff match.

"That meeting was confidential. Like at lots of meetings, lots of things are discussed, a lot of matters, ideas are floated and at that meeting the idea (of a 33rd spot) was floated for a minute of two, but it was a peripheral idea," Delaney said.

"In our view a replay was the right decision at the time and to be honest going into the meeting Friday we knew we would not be at the World Cup finals."

REPLAY

Ireland had sought the meeting with FIFA after the governing body refused a request by Dublin for a replay following Henry's handball which was not seen by the match officials, but clearly identified on television.

After an extraordinary meeting of FIFA's executive committee in Cape Town to discuss the incident, Blatter said Henry's misdemeanour would be investigated by his body's disciplinary committee and if found guilty the French striker could be banned from the start of next year's World Cup finals.

"In terms of the football side, this is the end of the matter," Delaney said.

The Irish soccer chief said FIFA's reputation had been "severely damaged."

"Us not qualifying was a big disappointment, but the biggest losers in this whole debacle has been FIFA," Delaney said.

"FIFA's reputation is tarnished. Going right back to the seedings for the playoff, the image of Henry's goal and the behaviour of Blatter last Monday, this has severely damaged the game and we now need a successful World Cup.

"But this incident will linger long in the memory like Diego Maradona's handball," Delaney added, referring to the Argentina captain's use of his hand to score a goal against England at the 1986 World Cup finals.

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

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