BLOEMFONTEIN (Reuters) - A players’ revolution, which has torn France’s World Cup squad apart and angered the French president, escalated on Monday after some indicated they might not play in a match which could save their campaign.
A government minister, dispatched to address the warring parties over a crisis which has engulfed France, said the players’ revolt over the expulsion of a colleague who abused the coach, had tarnished the image of the entire nation.
Beleaguered coach Raymond Domenech said on Monday he faced a selection headache before his side’s final Group A game against South Africa because not all the members of his squad might be willing to take to the field on Tuesday in Bloemfontein.
The match is a game the team must win if it is to maintain any hopes of progressing in the tournament.
“It is a possibility,” said Domenech, who has faced a rebellion from his players over the past 48 hours, when asked whether some players could be reluctant to appear.
“We will have to take it into account when I compose the team with my staff,” the 58-year-old told a packed news conference tent outside the Free State stadium.
One of the players missing from Domenech’s starting lineup could be captain Patrice Evra, who did not attend the pre-match news conference that normally features both the coach and the skipper.
That could be an indication that Evra, who led the players’ protest against the French Football Federation’s (FFF) decision to kick striker Nicolas Anelka out of the squad after he crudely insulted Domenech at halftime of a 2-0 defeat by Mexico last week, might not play.
According to a senior FFF official, Evra was not the only player behind a revolt that resulted in the players boycotting a public training session in support of Anelka on Sunday.
“The three or four leaders are players past their prime who will never play a World Cup again,” FFF General Secretary Henri Monteil told French daily La Charente Libre’s website (www.charentelibre.com) on Monday.
Domenech made it clear on Monday that he backed the FFF’s decision to expel Anelka and attacked the “imbecility” of the squad for boycotting training on Sunday.
“The sanction was absolutely justified and I fully support the Federation’s decision (to send Anelka home),” Domenech said.
“Nobody can allow himself to behave that way.”
The coach had harsh words to denounce the players’ decision not to train. “It was an aberration, an imbecility, a stupidity with no name,” he said.
So deep was the crisis that French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot came to meet the players on Monday in an effort to galvanize them before what could well be their last battle at this World Cup.
“French football faces a moral disaster,” she told reporters after the meeting.
”You have tarnished France’s image, I told them,“ she said. ”For your kids, our children, you may no longer be heroes.
”I told them, looking them in the eyes, how do you want to be remembered, what image do you want to leave ?
“Give it all you have, fight for it, I told them, and I could see in their eyes that they wanted to do that.”
Domenech also urged his players, facing scorn and derision from fans and media for bringing shame to their sport and country, to show pride against South Africa.
“The reputation of the France team is at stake in that next match,” said Domenech, looking combative but not angry.
“The image we will leave behind much depends on what will happen tomorrow (Tuesday) on the pitch,” he added.
France, who have frustrated their fans with uninspired performances since a Euro 2008 flop and needed a controversial playoff win over Ireland to win a ticket to South Africa, are in great danger of making another early exit.
Only if they score a big win against the hosts on Tuesday and Mexico and Uruguay do not draw at the same time will they stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages.
Editing by Michael Holden