BRUSSELS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy apologised to Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen for France's controversial victory over Ireland in their World Cup play-off on Wednesday, but would not agree to a replay.
Cowen raised the issue of replaying the match with his French counterpart at a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday after French captain Thierry Henry admitted he handled the ball in the build-up to William Gallas' winning goal in Paris.
Sarkozy said he was sympathetic to Ireland's position, but could not support Cowen's call for restaging the game.
"I told Brian Cowen how sorry I was for them," Sarkozy told reporters. "But don't ask me to substitute myself for the referee, or the French football authorities, or the European football authorities: leave me right where I am."
Cowen earlier backed an appeal by the Football Association of Ireland to soccer's world governing body FIFA to have the game replayed.
"Yes, I do (support the FAI). Our minister of sport will write to FIFA in support of that complaint and look for a re-match," he said.
"He (Sarkozy) would understand the sense of disappointment that the Irish people feel after the tremendous performance last night I think that fair play is a fundamental part of the game."
The FAI have asked FIFA to order a replay of the controversial World Cup playoff against France.
Irish soccer authorities said the extra time goal at the Stade de France, which gave France a 2-1 aggregate win and dominated news bulletins in Ireland all day, as well as being discussed in parliament, had "damaged the integrity of the sport.
Citing a decision to invalidate the result of a World Cup qualifier between Uzbekistan and Bahrain in 2005 as a precedent, FAI chief executive John Delaney said he was not calling for a replay simply out of principle.
FIFA officials told Reuters that any replay would need the agreement of both football associations before the governing body could consider such an appeal.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury