Political fallout from World Cup shame

JOHANNESBURG Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:21am EDT

1 of 3. Outgoing French Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes (C) and French soccer team outgoing coach Raymond Domenech (L) attend a French parliamentary hearing about the team's World Cup debacle at the National Assembly in Paris June 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - World Cup shame had swift political repercussions on Wednesday when Nigeria's president suspended the national team and France's parliament held an inquest into their side's dismal failure.

While the competition went into two rest days before the quarter-finals, a senior adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he had suspended the side from international competition for two years following their poor performance in South Africa, where they went out in the first round.

"Mr President has directed that Nigeria will withdraw from all international football competition for the next two years to enable Nigeria to reorganize its football," Ima Niboro, Jonathan's senior communications adviser, told reporters.

While Nigeria licked their wounds, France was consumed by a political inquest after the team finished bottom of their group, despite a warning by soccer's governing body FIFA that this kind of interference could get the local federation suspended.

Outgoing coach Raymond Domenech and former federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, who resigned over the scandal, were summoned before a parliamentary commission on Wednesday.

Escalettes said he had felt helpless against a players' revolt when they refused to train in support of striker Nicolas Anelka who was sent home for insulting Domenech.

Government spokesman Luc Chatel, however, told reporters there was no interference in soccer affairs, merely an attempt to find out what had happened.

The tournament's break comes after three grueling weeks and 48 games that have ruined many reputations but set up enticing quarter-final duels between Europe and South America.

The reputations in ruins are mostly European and the names in lights are predominantly Latin although Ghana has saved the pride of Africa by equaling the continent's previous best result of reaching the quarter-finals.

BLACK STARS CARRY AFRICAN HOPES

The Black Stars will try to beat that record when they face Uruguay on Friday in Johannesburg's huge Soccer City stadium with the hopes of a continent on their backs and urged on by a deafening roar of vuvuzela trumpets.

While Europe has suffered some huge failures -- the elimination of holders Italy, 2006 runners up France and disappointing England -- Germany, Netherlands and Spain are carrying the flag high after good results in the last 16.

The progress of the tournament has also set up two of the best imaginable matches between the unbeaten Netherlands and five-times champions Brazil on Friday and Argentina -- the most exciting team here so far -- and a talented Germany on Saturday.

The other quarter final will pitch pre-tournament favorites Spain against Paraguay, probably the weakest team from a record four South Americans in the quarter-finals.

Tension built before the quarter-finals.

German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said the Argentines would try to provoke his young squad to throw them off their game.

He was in the side that beat Argentina on penalties in 2006 to move into the World Cup semi-finals. Several players and coaches clashed after the shootout.

The two sides have plenty of history. They met in consecutive World Cup finals in 1986, when Argentina won, and 1990 when the result was reversed.

It is not only nations whose reputations have suffered here. Most of the names who attracted most hype before the tournament have fizzled, some of them like England's Wayne Rooney, spectacularly.

Rooney, one of the Premier League's deadliest strikers, scarcely made a mark and was more notable for his scowl. But he was not alone.

The world's most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, also spent more time pouting than playing stellar soccer and another premier league star, Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, did not shine.

Samuel Eto'o, one of the most eagerly anticipated African players, could not prevent an early exit for Cameroon.

Africa's poor showing -- five of six finalists including hosts South Africa went out in the group stage -- has been a disappointment to the continent but has surprised few experts.

FIFA said on Wednesday that African soccer needs big structural changes if it is to match the expectations generated by a few big names playing in Europe.

FIFA development director Thierry Regenass told reporters proper governance and professional management had to be improved if the continent's favorite sport was to do better on the international stage.

(Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Ossian Shine)

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