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'Ireland have decided to forget about Thierry Henry handball incident'

Martin O’Neill also complained that France have a “disproportionate” amount of time to recover for the game.

France's William Gallas, center, runs after scoring for France during their World Cup qualifying playoff second leg soccer match at the Stade de France stadium in Saint Denis outside Paris.
France's William Gallas, center, runs after scoring for France during their World Cup qualifying playoff second leg soccer match at the Stade de France stadium in Saint Denis outside Paris.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 18.57

- Paul Fennessy reports from Versailles

MARTIN O’NEILL SAYS Ireland have decided to forget about the controversial Thierry Henry handball incident that ultimately proved pivotal in the team’s 2010 World Cup play-off defeat against France.

The infamous moment, in which a clear Thierry Henry handball went unpunished in the lead up to William Gallas’ extra-time goal, is bound to be a talking point as the two sides meet again for the first time in a competitive fixture since that unforgettable game in Saint Denis, as they prepare for a Euro 2016 second-round match on Sunday.

However, O’Neill downplayed the incident at today’s press conference at the team’s base in Versailles, and also seemed less than pleased that France will get an extra three days recovery, having last played in the 0-0 draw with Switzerland on Sunday, ahead of the big match.

It does seem a disproportionate amount of time that one team has to recover from another,” O’Neill said. “That might become very important.”

The 64-year-old coach continued: “I understand that, as the host nation, you should get some favours. If the competition was in Ireland, I would do exactly the same myself. Teams that play Ireland would play every single night and we wouldn’t have to play for a year.

The Thierry Henry (incident) is still probably causing some controversy, maybe more in France than it is in Ireland. I think we have decided to forget about it. That’s something coming from Ireland. It will be a talking point obviously, but I don’t think it will concern us when we play the game.”

The Ireland boss, meanwhile, was highly complimentary when asked about Didier Deschamps’ side.

“France have some individual talent that is mesmerising — very, very good players. The little lad (N’Golo) Kante in the midfield has had a sensational season for Leicester City. (Paul) Pogba is a really good player. I don’t know the ins and outs of what they’ll do with the team, but as the home nation, playing in front of the home crowd, they will have the vast majority of the tickets so it will be a tough afternoon but we’re ready for it.

We would have to play in the manner which we did last night. We would have to play with the same confidence, intensity, and if we can do that, we can cause them problems.”

As O’Neill alluded to, France will certainly be at an advantage in one respect, with the FAI today confirming that the vast majority of tickets for the game in Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon would go to home supporters. Currently, a total of approximately 4,600 tickets have been allocated to Irish fans for Sunday’s game.

In addition, the Ireland boss said that both Stephen Ward and Jonathan Walters were hopeful of being available for this weekend’s crucial encounter.

Walters has not played since struggling through 64 minutes of Ireland’s opening Group E encounter against Sweden.

Ward, on the other hand, picked up a knock in last night’s historic win over Italy.

Of his thoughts regarding the starting XI to play France, O’Neill said: “Stephen Ward picked up an injury, his ankle has blown up. He’s desperate to play obviously. He played very well last night, continuing on. So we’ll have a look at him.

Jon Walters is trying to make an attempt to get fit as well. He’s been a major part of our campaign. It’d be nice to have him in contention if possible.

“We’ll see how they come out of it first and then take the energy levels into consideration again. They put an amazing amount of work in last night. Someone like James McClean could sleep for a week after the effort he put in.”

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Paul Fennessy

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