Even the sports illiterate among us know that in soccer, you are not allowed to use your hands (unless you are the goalie).  But in last night’s taut playoff to decide a spot in the World Cup, the referees and French star striker Thierry Henry seemed to temporarily forget that most basic of rules.

In extra time of last night’s World Cup qualifying playoff, Florent Malouda sent a in the direction of Henry to the right of Irish goalkeeper Shay Given in the 103rd minute. Henry appeared to stop the ball with his left hand (pictured in a sloppy screen shot), then used his hand again to slow the ball down and poke the ball with his right foot in front of the net to William Gallas, who headed in the decisive goal while Irish defenders were crying for the officials to make the call.

“(Henry) almost caught it and walked into the net with it,” said Robbie Keane, who had put the Irish ahead in the 33rd minute.

After the game, Henry admitted that he had touched the ball with his hand.

“I will be honest, it was a hand ball. But I’m not the ref,” Henry said. “I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.”

Needless to say that the response among Irish fans has not been kind to the French striker.  Several parody songs has cropped up in since yesterday, with this one (set to the tune of Michael Jackson’s Beat It) and another (set to to the tune of A-Ha’s Take on Me) being our favorites. This morning, the Irish soccer federation lodged an official complaint to FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body. Irish government officials on both sides of the political aisle united in demanding that the match be replayed.

“Throughout the country today there is an air of bitterness. We were beaten unfairly and there is general disgust in France too,” Irish lawmaker Joe McHugh said. “Friends of mine who attended last night’s game phoned me this morning from a cafe in Paris to report that the French people are ashamed and do not regard this as an honest victory.”

“If that result remains, it reinforces the view that if you cheat you will win,” said Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern — who also pointed out that two French players appeared to be offsides on a free kick that preceded the goal.

“Millions of people worldwide saw it was a blatant double handball, not to mention a double offside,” Ahern said. “We should put the powers that be in the cozy world of FIFA on the spot and demand a replay.”

Good luck with that.  Although there is no doubt that Ireland got hosed here, the chances of this result being overturned or the match being replayed are just about nil.  Besides, the World Cup is better with the likes of France, a traditional soccer powerhouse, in the field than they are with a relative nobody like Ireland. But make no mistake:  This is the biggest story in the world of sports today.

Speaking of the World Cup, the entire field is now set.  Here are the 32 teams that will be headed to South Africa next summer: United States, Mexico, Honduras, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, The Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, England, Portugal, France, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria and host country South Africa.

We can’t wait for World Cup.