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Henry's great escape

Thierry Henry has scored more important goals during his career but few promised as much hope to a new legion of fans than his strike for the New York Red Bulls in a 2-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday.

It was almost like old times for the former Arsenal forward as he tormented the Spurs defence with a single moment of magic, beating his opponents to connect with a seemingly harmless cross, before nonchalantly flicking it into the back of the net.

By his own standards, it was not a goal that will feature on his highlights reel but the significance of it was not lost on him or the 20,000 fans that packed into the New Jersey stadium to watch his American club debut in the friendly encounter.


Following a miserable year which has seen a once glittering reputation turned to dust, the warm welcome afforded to Henry by American fans has come as a huge relief to the Frenchman.

"The reception was tremendous and every time I touched the ball they cheered," said Henry after Thursday's match. "It was important for me to feel at home."

After spending his first week on a whirlwind tour around New York's major television networks and feted like a pop star, Henry joined the masses and caught a public train to his match.

A similar situation is now unimaginable for Henry in his native France, where television interviews would likely involve excruciating questions about the national side's woeful World Cup and his own infamous handball against Ireland that got them there.

And so reviled are the squad that caused France such humiliation in South Africa, that catching a public train would clearly be out of the question.

Indeed, when the Les Bleus squad made their ignominious return from the tournament, they flew in to an obscure airstrip 20 kilometres north of Paris in a plane with the markings of a cargo aircraft, so fearful were they of any contact with ordinary citizens.

No wonder then, that with Henry on the way out at Barcelona, he chose exile on the other side of the Atlantic rather than the more obvious choice of a club in Europe.

And as luck would have it, his first opponents as a New York player were familiar foes from his days in north London.

If ever he needed extra motivation, the sight of a Spurs jersey was enough to fuel his competitive juices.

His first few touches showed that while he had perhaps lost a yard of pace, he still possessed all his predatory instincts and it was no real surprise that he broke the deadlock after 25 minutes and gave his team a 1-0 lead at halftime.

For the faithful and the curious who had come to see him play, that was his last significant contribution to the game.

As soon as the halftime whistle was blown, he took off his first Red Bull No14 shirt and handed it to Tottenham's Luka Modric and did not return for the second half.

"He's going to make a massive, massive impact for us," Red Bull coach Hans Backe said. "But he's only one player and he needs his team-mates to feed him the killer passes."

With Henry gone, Tottenham took control of the second half, Robbie Keane equalising from short-range in the 62nd minute before Gareth Bale netted the winner 10 minutes later following a mix-up in the New York defence.

"The young bloke from that first half, Henry, looks like he's got a good future," Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp quipped. "He was fantastic. He's a different class. He's still a world class player. We were fortunate to win the game. We did okay. We're just back in training."