PARIS - France's humiliating first round
exit from the World Cup took centre stage in French politics on
Thursday, overshadowing protests against pension reforms and
preparations for a G20 summit.
Police were deployed in numbers to protect the return of the
team, Nicolas Sarkozy changed his schedule to meet Thierry Henry
and Sports minister Roselyne Bachelot called for the resignation
of the French Federation chairman.
Opposition leaders criticized the governement.
Green leader Cecile Duflot said it was "indecent to see the
government giving priority to football on a day of a national
strike and demonstrations all over France against a pension
Non governmental organisations (NGOs) complained Sarkozy had
cancelled a meeting ahead of the G20 meeting in Toronto.
Trade unions leaders said they hoped the strike would get
the same political and media treatment than the crisis of the
The disgraced Bleus returned home in a plane chartered by
the French Federation which landed at Le Bourget business
airport, 20 km north of Paris.
Their campaign, marred by infighting and the boycott of a
training session, ended on Tuesday with a 2-1 defeat by hosts
South Africa that left them bottom of Group A without a win.
A smattering of supporters were kept at a distance and
dozens of photographers, cameramen and journalists were penned
behind a wire fence.
Some of the players went straight into two coaches with
darkened windows which left the airport through a back entrance
without going through passport control and customs.
"They didn't have the guts to confront us. They have really
reached rock bottom," a disappointed and angry fan told
television channel iTele in front of the main terminal.
"IMMATURE GANG LEADERS"
Florent Malouda had gone straight from South Africa to
Witnesses said the Olympique Lyon players and Franck Ribery
flew out on in two private planes without going through passport
control and customs. A French team spokesman later said that
Ribery would undergo groin surgery in Munich on Friday.
Team captain Thierry Henry was driven in an official car
under police escort to the Elysee Palace.
Les Bleus' team captain, who has 123 caps to his name and is
France's most prolific scorer with 51 goals, entered the
presidential palace through a side door, far from the media who
were waiting for him at the main entrance.
He left the same way and a government spokesman said there
would be "no statement and no comment."
Meanwhile, television cameramen on motorbikes had followed
the car that was driving Patrick Evra back to Paris.
The Manchester United player, who captained Les Bleus in
their first two world cup games but was dropped for the last
one, opened his window but cut questions short saying:
"Today is not the time to speak, today is the time for
Players and Federation leaders will however not be able to
avoid questions for long.
In one of the harshest condemnations so far, Bachelot
castigated "the disaster of the national team made of immature
gang leaders in command of scared kids with a coach at a loss
and without any authority and a federation with its back against
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