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Henry let-off sets dangerous precedent: St Ledger

IRELAND defender Sean St Ledger believes that Fifa has created a dangerous precedent by failing to punish Thierry Henry for the handball that sent France to the World Cup finals at Ireland's expense.

Henry's reputation might never recover from the sleight of hand that helped France to earn a place in South Africa after a Fifa disciplinary committee ruled in Zurich last night that it had no power to sanction him.

"I don't want players to get banned, but (the decision) promotes, 'If you can get away with it, do it'," said St Ledger, who played in the 1-1 draw at the Stade de France in November.

"I've seen (the incident) again today and I still think he intentionally, the second time, handballed it. I still feel a bit hurt from it."

Ireland had lost the first leg of the World Cup play-off 1-0 in Dublin. They led 1-0 in Paris, forcing the game into extra time, when Henry's handball led to William Gallas scoring the decisive goal.

The incident caused outrage, with the FAI demanding a replay and then to go to the World Cup as a 33rd team. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, referred to it as "blatant unfair play".

Fifa dismissed Ireland's demands but did agree to have another look at the possibility of using video evidence in the future, and referred the handball by the Barcelona striker to its disciplinary body. But a FIFA statement issued last night said that it had no basis on which to punish Henry.

"The disciplinary committee reached the conclusion that there was no legal foundation for the committee to consider the case because handling the ball cannot be regarded as a serious infringement as stipulated in article 77a of the FIFA disciplinary code," the statement said. "There is no other legal text that would allow the committee to impose sanctions for any incidents missed by match officials."

The decision means that the 32-year-old former Arsenal player will not face a ban for any of France's matches in the World Cup finals this summer.

Ireland had been angered even before the match by FIFA's decision to seed the play-offs, allowing teams such as Portugal and France to avoid each other.

Asked for his opinion on yesterday's ruling, St Ledger said: "I think it's a poor one.

"They said they've got no legal foundation but they still had the power to change the rules and introduce the seedings. I think if they have got that kind of power to change that rule, I don't understand why they haven't got the power to make a ruling here." © The Times, London