Sunday 18 February 2018

Henry back at scene of 'crime'

Samuel Petrequin

THIERRY HENRY has described his infamous handball against Ireland as a "reflex" and insisted that he saw certain people in a new light in the fall-out after the Paris play-off.

Henry and France will play their first game since that night in the Stade De France when they host Spain tonight, but the former Arsenal striker says he won't fear the crowd reaction.

"It was a reflex. A reflex is a reflex, and you don't think about it," Henry said at France training camp. "It hasn't changed me, but I saw the true face of many people."

Henry, France's all-time leading scorer with 51 goals in 117 internationals, is likely to play despite losing his regular starting spot at Barcelona this season.

Henry has started only once for the Spanish club in the past six weeks, a position that has raised fears about his ability to perform at the World Cup.

"It's not like if I hadn't played the whole season," Henry added. Quizzed on his preferred position, he bristled: "I've already said it a million times. I prefer playing in the middle, but I can play anywhere. There is no problem. The important thing is that the team wins. Franck (Ribery) prefers playing on the left, me in the middle and the coach (Raymond Domenech) makes the decisions."

With seven regular players out with injuries, Domenech doesn't expect his team to shine less than four months before the finals in South Africa.

"We know that Spain are one of the World Cup favourites along with Brazil," Domenech said. "This match is offering us the chance to see where we stand."

Without the likes of Arsenal defender William Gallas and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, Domenech fears his team could be overwhelmed by a Spain side that are expected to field a first-choice line-up. Spain have not lost since a 2-0 defeat against the United States last June and is on an eight-game winning run.

"It will be difficult to find the good balance with all the injured players and the new faces I selected," admitted Domenech.

Panathinaikos striker Djibril Cisse, who scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, and Marseille winger Hatem Ben Arfa have earned recalls to France, while midfielder Benoit Cheyrou and defender Mickael Ciani have received their maiden calls.

Loathed by the fans who systematically boo his name at Stade de France, Domenech will step down after the World Cup. Criticism will again fall upon him if the players underachieve against Spain, but the former Lyon coach tried to downplay the importance of the outcome.

"In 2006, we played against Slovakia at home in March and we lost 2-1," Domenech said. "It had no consequence on our preparations for the World Cup."

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has been able to recall striker Fernando Torres, who scored for Liverpool against Blackburn last Sunday after one month out with a knee injury.

"We really want to play them, especially since they knocked us out of the last World Cup," Torres said.

Irish Independent

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