Sarkozy asks minister to calm French squad

PARIS - French politicians from the president down plus a string of former football greats led a chorus of dismay on Sunday as France's World Cup campaign threatened to implode after an extraordinary training boycott.

President Nicolas Sarkozy asked his sports minister in South Africa to prolong her stay to speak to the captain, coach and head of the French Football Federation (FFF) to calm the situation before Tuesday's final Group A game against South Africa.

The French team walked out from a public training session over the expulsion of striker Nicolas Anelka a day earlier for crudely insulting coach Raymond Domenech during their surprise 2-0 defeat by Mexico on Thursday.

Sunday's walkout led to a furious row between captain Patrice Evra and a fitness coach and the resignation of a senior official, team director and FFF managing director Jean-Louis Valentin.

France are unlikely in any case to qualify for the second round of the tournament following the defeat by Mexico.

'TAKING NOTE'

Sports minister Roselyne Bachelot said President Sarkozy had asked her to meet Evra, Domenech and the head of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, on Monday.

"He (Sarkozy) like me, we are taking note of the indignation of the French people and ... calling for dignity and responsibility," she told TFI television.

Asked whether there would be penalties over the episode, she said: "It's not yet the right time to take disciplinary action but that time will come very soon."

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, formerly a member of the national synchronised swimming team, slammed the boycott which players said was out of solidarity with Anelka.

"I am appalled. I am appalled because I have worn the French national colours as you know, and when you wear the French national colours you have added responsibilities," she told LCI television.

"The first (responsibility) is to be the best possible in sport, but also to be exemplary because you are watched. There are young children, young adolescents who practise the sport and look to you as an example," she added.

France's former football greats also slammed the team's behaviour.

"It's intolerable. It's not at all professional," Emmanuel Petit, a former French international who scored in France's 1998 World Cup final win over Brazil, told France 2 television.

"It's sad, it's shameful, it's pathetic," Alain Giresse, another former French international, told the same station.

Bixente Lizarazu, also a member of the victorious French World Cup and European Championship-winning teams of 1998 and 2002, added his voice to the criticism.

"Nobody has their sang froid any more in this team and everyone is blowing up ... This shows that no one has any authority over the French team any longer and that's very serious," he told RTL radio.

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