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Sarkozy says 'non'

FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy last night told Taoiseach Brian Cowen he could not support demands for a replay of the World Cup qualifier despite feeling "sorry" for the Irish.

But hopes of a replay still flickered as the French football federation refused to comment either way on the controversy.

The FAI made a formal complaint to the sport's world governing body FIFA. It also wrote to the French authorities urging them to "look at themselves" and suggested that the match should be re-staged.

Last night, FAI chief John Delaney insisted there was a precedent for such action.

He was referring to a FIFA-ordered re-match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain, in a play-off for the 2006 World Cup in Germany -- which came about because the referee made a mistake after a penalty was awarded.

Mr Cowen threw the full weight of his Government behind calls for a replay after the French won as a result of a deliberate handball by their captain, Thierry Henry.

Mr Cowen spoke with Mr Sarkozy about the game when they met at an EU summit in Brussels -- without raising the controversy at official level.

When asked for his view on Mr Cowen's call for a replay, Mr Sarkozy dismissed the prospect of him getting involved in something "totally foreign to me".

"I said to Brian Cowen, who is a friend of mine as you know, that I was sorry for them and how I was struck by the talent and vigour of the Irish team.

"Now do not ask me to stand in for the referee of the game or the football decision -- be they in France or in Europe," he said.

"What will be done will be done. But leave me out of it, please. And to be perfectly frank with you that is the sort of answer I want to give," he said

Mr Cowen confirmed he did speak briefly to Mr Sarkozy about the match.

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"No, I didn't ask for a replay. I said, you know: 'What do you think?' and he said: 'Look, I understand totally the sense of disappointment that you feel about the game. I'm not trying to mix politics and sport in this respect. We just had a chat. It's not going to be resolved by he and I," he said.

Mr Sarkozy's comments were the second sign that France has no intention of agreeing to a rematch; the country's Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the Irish Government "shouldn't interfere in football".

The controversial end to Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier, which saw France go through 2-1 on aggregate, became quite literally a political football with Government and Opposition figures alike crying foul. The Taoiseach said Sports Minister Martin Cullen would be writing to FIFA on behalf of the Government -- calling for the match to be replayed.

Mr Cowen said he and the Government agreed with the Football Association of Ireland's official complaint about the game and their demand for a rematch. But it is believed a rematch will only happen if France agrees to it. Mr Cowen said he would not raise the matter officially.

"I'm not going to raise it to that high diplomatic status. I just want to see it dealt with on the basis of the regulatory bodies of football, making sure fair play is upheld here."

FIFA said it received the formal request from the FAI for a replay and was looking at it.

The governing body appeared to rule out any chance of a replay, though, by referring to Rule 5 of the official rules of the game. The rule says the referee has full authority to enforce the laws of the game in connection with the match to which he has been appointed and that "the decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play are final".

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni was downbeat about the chances of a replay, but called for the use of video technology. "It is better to stop the game for 30 seconds rather than make big mistakes," he said.

In the Dail, the morning business was overtaken with debate on the controversial extra-time goal with the opposition demanding diplomatic action from the Government.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he would "take the matter up" with French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner.

TDs from across the political divide issued press statements throughout the day calling for a replay and a FIFA investigation.

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