Raymond Domenech – and not anyone within Fifa or the French Football Federation [FFF] – was the one who ultimately said "no" as the prospect of replaying Ireland's controversial World Cup play-off second leg against France came painfully close, the Sunday Tribune has learned. Indeed, it has now emerged that almost all bodies, from Fifa to French officials and players, were increasingly open to restaging the game only for French coach Domenech to obstinately block any move.
The FAI yesterday released a statement expressing their disappointment at the decision of the FFF to not replay the game but sources extremely close to negotiations in both Zurich and Paris have revealed to the Sunday Tribune that, behind the scenes, a rematch was a "lot closer than has been presented". Realising the battering the image of the game was receiving and the huge spotlight and pressure a player of Thierry Henry's standing had brought, figures within Fifa were "beginning to buckle".
It is understood one senior Fifa executive, described as extremely close to president Sepp Blatter, was a prime mover in negotiations and made it known that, were the FFF to agree to a rematch, Fifa would have no objection. Coming under immense pressure from both without and within – particularly from politicians as diverse as French finance minister Christine Lagarde and '60s activist Daniel Cohn-Bendit, not to mention ex-players and the general French population – the notoriously conservative FFF were prepared to do so. And when put to the French squad, a majority declared they would have no issue with replaying the game. However, the buck ultimately stopped with Domenech who was reportedly bullish in his refusal.
That fact comes as no surprise given his comments on Friday morning. At that stage, the FAI had already been waiting 36 hours for a response from the FFF to their request for a replay. Yet the first to speak was Domenech then, who declared to L'Express newspaper "To me this is the game and not cheating… We are not going to commit hara-kiri because the referee made a mistake and this time in our favour".
In the time between that comment and the FFF's official response to the FAI on Friday evening, Domenech repeated his refusal to French officials who were by then effectively scared into investigating the possibility of a replay given the ructions on all sides. Once they had their answer, the FFF deflected attention away from their already under-fire manager in an official statement: "Fifa is the ruler of the game and we have to abide by what they say. What they decide we have to do and they have ruled it will not be replayed. So we should move on."
While that appears a deliberate smudge, the FAI accepted the decision in an official statement yesterday. "We regret that despite our efforts for a replay, which would have restored the integrity of the game in front of a world-wide audience, our calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears."
Behind the scenes, however, that was not the case and given Domenech's huge unpopularity in France and the general dissatisfaction with Henry's handball as well the unsavoury manner of qualification, his refusal could yet bring more pressure for a replay.