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Shamed French squad faces humiliating return

Sports Desk |
Update: 2010-06-23 00:11:14

PARIS: Frances shamed World Cup squad faced the wrath of President Nicolas Sarkozy, the press and a furious public on Wednesday after a disastrous exit from the tournament in South Africa.

The players were due to fly back to a humiliated country that has largely written them off as spoiled millionaires led by an incompetent coach and unworthy of the blue jersey worn by the 1998 world champions.

France is so angry that Sarkozy, who had been hoping a good showing from the team might cheer a country facing difficult economic times, has called a meeting of government ministers to discuss the defeat.

"Those responsible for this disaster must accept the consequences, first the players, then the team management and after them the football federation," sports minister Roselyne Bachelot said on Europe 1 radio.

Sarkozy has not spoken publicly on the French campaign -- which was marked by two defeats, one draw, a player strike, dressing room squabbles and a single goal -- but his governments spokesman expressed fury.

"For me, as a supporter of the team, I am obviously very disappointed. As a citizen I am truly indignant by what has gone on, and as minister for education I am terribly angry," Luc Chatel told Canal Plus television.

Chatel said the squad had lacked "respect, team spirit, pride and enough dignity to wear the shirt of any club, from the smallest local side to that of the French national team."

The minister singled out French coach Raymond Domenech for criticism, citing in particular his unsportsmanlike refusal to shake the hand of the South African manager after the final defeat as a bad example to younger players.

He also attacked the outgoing team captain, Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, for his part in a players strike on Sunday, when the team refused to train in protest at the sacking of striker Nicolas Anelka.

Anelka was substituted midway through Frances defeat at the hands of Mexico and later sent home after it was reported the he had responded to Domenechs half-time team talk with an obscene rant.

This in turn led Evra and other players to accuse an un-named "traitor" in the camp of betraying Anelka to the press.

Tens of thousands of French fans across the country booed the players during Tuesdays broadcast of their limp 2-1 defeat, even cheering ironically when South Africa scored, and the press was no kinder.

Several newspapers noted that France had only qualified for the finals in the first place by "cheating" Ireland of its place when striker Thierry Henry handled the ball before their winning goal in a qualifying match.

"France is not ready to forgive," declared the popular Le Parisien, while the influential sports daily l Equipe demanded that the government step in to reform the French Football Federation, which it said is run by "clowns".

Henry is flying back to France separately from the rest of his team mates and will meet Sarkozy on Thursday, having requested a private audience. The rest of the squad were to fly back late in the night and arrive early Thursday.

Meanwhile, the airwaves were filling with outraged commentators and call-in listeners, criticising everything from the teams lack of patriotism -- many failed to sing the national anthem -- to the players level of education.

Few of the players have responded to the criticism, but midfielder Florent Malouda -- the sole Frenchman to have found the back of the net -- denied that the team was made up of "hooligans".

"Me, I will stay on. We have a responsibility to rebuild what we have destroyed," he told Le Parisien, promising that the players would work better with Domenechs replacement, Laurent Blanc.

BDST: 1744 HRS. June 23, 2010

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