Henry & Evra make case for defence

PARIS - France's Thierry Henry and Patrice Evra admitted on Friday that Les Bleus' World Cup had been a "fiasco on the field" but insisted that the team stayed united off the field until the end of their disastrous campaign.

"There was no quarrel, no fight," Henry told television channel Canal Plus in his first interview since France were ousted from the World Cup on Tuesday after a 2-1 defeat by South Africa that left them bottom from their Group A without a win.

The 1998 winners' World Cup campaign, marred by poor results but also the sending home of Nicolas Anelka after insulting coach Raymond Domenech and the boycott of a training session in support of the striker, caused an outcry back home.

President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a wholesale review of French football and sports minister Roselyne Bachelot slammed "immature gang leaders in command of scared kids".

"They should stop talking about gang leaders. I come from the Paris suburbs, I know what a gang leader is and there aren't any in the team. Nobody put pressure on anybody," Henry said.

"It was a fiasco on the field and the first reason is that we didn't play well, we mustn't hide from the truth but then we lost ourselves in discussions and made-up stories."

The 32-year-old Barcelona striker who has 123 caps to his name but did not start a game in South Africa and only played as a substitute, admitted the World Cup had been a very uncomfortable experience.

"I felt sidelined. People were not talking to me as they used to and when you lose credibility it becomes more and more difficult," he said.


Evra, who captained the team in the first two games against Uruguay and Mexico but was dropped for the third one, also admitted on another television channel, TF1, that France's World Cup had been "a flop" but stressed the team "stayed united until the end".

The decision to boycott the training session to protest against Anelka's exclusion was taken by the whole group, he said.

"There was not a single player, nobody, who wanted to come out of the bus," he added, referring to the players' meeting inside the team bus when the boycott was decided.

"It was a clumsy gesture. We felt sorry about the social consequences but sometimes you are in such a situation that you make mistakes."

The fullback said he was hurt when Domenech prevented him from apologising at a press conference on the day before the South Africa game.

He promised, however, that Laurent Blanc, who succeeds Domenech as France coach, "would find a squad of players united and solidly linked by the will to restore the image and the fortune of the national team".

"But there will be no miracle. We'll have to win games," he added.

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