Not since Diego Maradona punched Argentina past England in a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal has a handball sparked such furor. In France’s Nov. 18 World Cup playoff against Ireland, Thierry Henry’s apparently deliberate swat helped tie the game and roil a continent. In extra time, Henry used his hand to control the ball before dishing off to fullback William Gallas, who netted the goal that stamped Les Bleus’ ticket for South Africa next summer. The Irish were apopletic. “I cannot speak, I am so angry,” Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni said after the match. Even one of Henry’s teammates acknowledged that the incident overshadowed the team’s accomplishment and sullied the World Cup berth. “We’re going to the World Cup, but we go to the locker room with our heads bowed,” fullback Bixente Lizarazu said. Henry, long regarded as one of the beautiful game’s most dignified ambassadors, admitted the faux pas but deferred blame. “I’m not the referee,” he said.