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Irish FA deny players were paid not to tackle Lionel Messi

Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina in Chile?
Image: Lionel Messi in action for Argentina

Irish football chiefs are taking legal advice over claims that Republic of Ireland players were paid not to tackle Argentina star Lionel Messi during a friendly game in 2010.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) claims the allegations that players were paid 10,000 US dollars each, made in La Nacion in South America, as "baseless" and have vowed to take the matter further.

Argentina faced Ireland in Dublin in August 2010 in a friendly to officially open the new Aviva Stadium and the report suggests it was also in part to help compensate the FAI for the nation's controversial World Cup play-off exit following the Thierry Henry handball in France nine months earlier.

An FAI statement said: "The Football Association of Ireland completely refutes the allegations made about the Republic of Ireland v Argentina friendly match in La Nacion as baseless.

"The match in question was organised by Kentaro and announced by press release prior to the World Cup play-offs in 2009. We are consulting our legal advisers in relation to the article, and will be taking further steps."

The report claims the late Julio Grondona, then president of the Argentina Football Association and senior FIFA vice-president, suggested to FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter that the Argentinian team should head for Dublin.

However, it alleges that Messi's club Barcelona were unhappy with the arrangement and with an insurance quote for the game coming in at five million US dollars, it was decided to adopt the less costly policy of paying the Ireland players to go easy on Messi.

The game, in which captain Robbie Keane won his 100th senior international cap, ended 1-0 with Angel di Maria scoring the only goal in front of a crowd of 45,200.

The FAI found itself thrust into the limelight earlier this month after chief executive John Delaney confirmed it had received a loan, later written off, of five million euros from FIFA in the wake of the Republic's play-off heartbreak at the Stade de France.

Delaney claimed the payment, which was used to offset the cost of redeveloping the old Lansdowne Road stadium, had been made after he and Blatter had entered into a deal under which the Irish governing body would not take legal action over the goal which handed France their ticket to South Africa after referee Martin Hansson and his assistants failed to spot  Henry's handball in the build-up.

The confidentiality agreement between the two parties, which was released by the FAI in a bid to clarify the situation, described the payment as an "inducement" not to enter into litigation.

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