World Cup: French soap opera takes another turn
The soap opera swirling around the French World Cup team took another bizarre turn -- if that's even possible -- when Coach Raymond Domenech appeared alone at a news conference Monday to say some of his players may not want to play in Tuesday's Group A finale against the host South Africans.
The mutiny started shortly after Thursday's 2-0 loss to Mexico when striker Nicolas Anelka insulted the coach in a profane tirade. The French Football Federation responded by expelling Anelka, and the players responded to that by boycotting practice Sunday during a tumultuous period in which a fitness coach stormed off the field and the managing director of the French federation said he was resigning.
The team returned to the practice field Monday, but with the players' workout uniforms stripped of all sponsor logos. In addition, a fast-food restaurant in France has pulled its ads featuring Anelka while a prominent bank has canceled an advertising campaign featuring the team.One of the players missing from Domenech's starting lineup could be captain Patrice Evra, who did not attend the prematch news conference that normally features both the coach and the captain.
That could be an indication that Evra, who led the players' protest, might not play Tuesday.
"The sanction was absolutely justified and I fully support the Federation's decision" to send Anelka home, Domenech said Monday. "Nobody can allow himself to behave that way."
Domenech had harsh words to denounce the players' decision not to train: "It was an aberration, an imbecility, a stupidity with no name," he said.
Still, the coach urged his players to show pride against South Africa.
"The reputation of the France team is at stake in that next match," Domenech said. "The image we will leave behind much depends on what will happen [Tuesday] on the pitch."
France, a World Cup finalist four years ago, has frustrated its fans with uninspired performances since a Euro 2008 flop. It needed a controversial playoff win over Ireland to win a ticket to South Africa, and the French are in great danger of making another early exit.
Only if they score a big win against the hosts Tuesday -- and if Mexico and Uruguay do not draw -- will they stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages.
-- Kevin Baxter in Johannesburg, South Africa