DUBLIN, December 3 – Irish football chiefs on Wednesday criticised FIFA President Sepp Blatter for making public details of their request for a '33rd' place at the World Cup in the wake of the Thierry Henry handball row.In a statement, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said it had asked for the request to be taken off the agenda for Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of FIFA’s executive committee in Cape Town.
"The Football Association of Ireland acknowledges that the suggestion of an additional place at the World Cup is not a possibility and has requested yesterday that it will not be raised at today’s FIFA executive committee meeting," the statement said.
"The FAI has already clarified that this matter was peripheral, was not raised in any of its formal written submissions to FIFA, and was explored only fleetingly as part of a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion with that body.
"Regrettably, the matter appears to have been singled out in public by Mr Blatter despite his assurances that the meeting would remain private."
FAI officials were left infuriated and insulted after Blatter opted to make the 33rd place request public in light-hearted comments in Johannesburg earlier this week.
Their anger was underlined by the national team’s assistant manager, Liam Brady, who branded the FIFA supremo’s handling of the fallout from the Henry affair "an embarrassment."
In Cape Town, Blatter apologised Wednesday.
"I would like to express my regrets for the wrong interpretation of what I said. I regret what I have created and I’m sorry to the Ireland football confederation for these headlines going around the world," he said.
"It’s a pity I communicated in this way. Sorry again."
Ireland were denied a place in the finals by a goal that should have been disallowed because Henry used his hand to control the ball before setting up William Gallas to score.
The goal sent France to South Africa with a 2-1 aggregate win in their play-off against Ireland, who tried but failed to have the match replayed.
The FAI said its priority now was to ensure FIFA took steps to ensure there could be no repeat of the Henry incident, which has fuelled calls for video technology to be used or extra officials introduced to avoid mistakes.
The statement added: "Instead of diverting attention, we would prefer that Mr Blatter uses this opportunity to deal with the issues which have been raised formally for the benefit of football worldwide."
The FAI called on FIFA to:
— Ensure that FIFA’s rules cannot be changed mid-way through a tournament, "for whatever reason, commercial or otherwise." (This refers to FIFA’s belated decision to seed the draw for the European play-offs, thus ensuring the likes of France and Portugal could not be drawn against each other).
— Introduce video technology for matches at the highest level
— Introduce goal line assistant referees for all internationals
— Introduce stronger sanctions for players who cheat
The FAI also called on FIFA to issue a statement saying it does not condone cheating, suggesting that Blatter had been too soft on Henry. "For a man in Mr Blatter’s position to empathise with someone who scored a goal by cheating is inappropriate," the statement added.