Federer backs Henry over handball storm

LONDON: Wimbledon champion Roger Federer insists his friend Thierry Henry shouldn’t be blamed for the controversial goal that sent France to the World Cup at the Republic of Ireland’s expense.

Henry has come in for heavy criticism after he clearly controlled a cross with his arm before setting up William Gallas to score the goal that gave France the 1-1 draw they needed to see off Ireland in Wednesday’s World Cup play-off second leg in Paris.

The incident has been compared to the infamous ‘hand of god’ goal scored by Argentina’s Diego Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup, while the Irish FA has called on FIFA, world football’s governing body, to make France replay the game.

With Henry’s reputation in danger of being severely tarnished by the incident, the Barcelona star can at least rely on the support of tennis’s world number one.

Federer has struck up a firm friendship with Henry since the pair shot high-profile commercials with Tiger Woods for shaving company Gillette and the Swiss star said: “It (the handball) happened in a split second. You can’t blame him for playing on.

“If the referee doesn’t see it I just think it is the systems and the referee who are at fault.

“It has happened so many times. So many goals are given that weren’t goals. This is just one more.

“Is the criticism strong? That is because we are here in Britain. It doesn’t sound like that in France I think.”

France captain Henry moved to quell the storm by admitting in a statement on Friday that a replay would be “the fairest solution”, but such an outcome remains unlikely.

And Federer concedes that no amount of apologies will make some people forgive Henry now.

“He did apologise. People say it was only after the match, but even five seconds after the event is too late,” he added.

Federer has always been a strong critic of the use of ‘Hawkeye’ technology in tennis, which allows players a limited number of replay challenges if they think a line call is wrong.

But he believes football should introduce video technology to cut out any repeats of the Henry drama.

“You can’t stop play all the time and just analyse everything but you can do a few things so things like this don’t happen. Then Henry is not in the position he is in.

“If you see a replay it is a clear handball and then you move on. Now it becomes a debate and it is political to a degree. It is not what it is supposed to be.”

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