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Troubled French team keeps low profile on return

By the CNN Wire Staff
Thierry Henry requested a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to explain the team's performance.
Thierry Henry requested a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to explain the team's performance.
  • Cameras barely catch a glimpse of team returning to Paris
  • Players disappoint fans hoping for autograph
  • France eliminated from World Cup after 2-1 loss to South Africa
  • Government probing nation's soccer federation

Paris, France (CNN) -- The French World Cup soccer team appeared to keep their heads down Thursday after returning from the tournament following their surprise first-round exit.

Cameras barely caught a glimpse of the team as they arrived back home in Paris and buses whisked the players away. The few supporters who turned up at the airport to see the team were left disappointed when the players didn't stop to give autographs.

Star player Thierry Henry met French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace later in the day and left through a back door, French radio BFM reported.

Thierry had requested the meeting before the team left the World Cup, Sarkozy's office said Wednesday.

French media slam 'shameful' exit

France was eliminated from the World Cup on Tuesday after a 2-1 loss to tournament host South Africa.

The loss followed an apparent collapse in relations between coach Raymond Domenech and his players that saw captain Patrice Evra left out of the match and the team refusing to practice on Sunday.

Henry, once France's main striker and a World Cup winner in 1998, was reduced to a minor role in this year's tournament, starting all three matches on the substitutes' bench.

A high-ranking French Cabinet minister told parliament Wednesday that the government will probe and audit the nation's soccer federation in light of France's failure to advance at the World Cup and dissension on the team.

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"We can only note the disaster with a French team where immature bullies order frightened children, with a helpless coach without any authority, a French Football Federation at bay," said Roselyne Bachelot, the French Minister of health, youth and sports.

"That's the reason why the government has decided to take all of its responsibilities by first conducting a profound analysis, an external audit, because those who have failed cannot conduct this analysis."

France, traditionally among the strongest national sides in world football and the losing finalist in Germany four years ago, became one of the first to be eliminated this time around.

Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after confronting Domenech at halftime during France's 2-0 defeat by Mexico last week.

Evra was then involved in a public dispute with the squad's fitness coach on the training ground Sunday and is reported to have led dissent over Anelka's expulsion from the team, with the entire squad boycotting the training session.

Adding to the confusion, French team director Jean-Louis Valentin then publicly announced his resignation to the media, while Bachelot attempted to mediate between Domenech and his players.

Monday, however, Bachelot told journalists the French players had "tarnished the image of France," according to French sports newspaper L'Equipe.

In an indication of the extent to which relations had broken down between Domenech and his squad, the coach on Monday described this players' decision to strike as "unspeakably stupid," and called their actions "an aberration and an imbecility."

"Nobody can behave in such a way in the dressing room or elsewhere and high-level sportsmen and women have to lead by example through football," Domenech told reporters.

France's problems at the World Cup had exacerbated long-standing dissatisfaction with the controversial Domenech, who is due to step down as national coach after the tournament to make way for former World Cup-winning defender Laurent Blanc.

The French only qualified for South Africa by virtue of a tight playoff win over Ireland, sealed with the help of Henry's controversial handballed assist for William Gallas' goal.

Exit at the group stage in South Africa marks a second successive failure in the opening stages of a major tournament. France crashed out of Euro 2008 without winning a match.

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