Nicolas Anelka's France career is as good as over after he was yesterday given an 18-match suspension by the French Football Federation (FFF) for his part in the country's World Cup fiasco. Anelka, the Chelsea striker, was disciplined for his part in the internal strife which contributed to Les Bleus' early exit from the World Cup in South Africa.
Patrice Evra, the captain in South Africa, has been handed a five-match ban, Franck Ribery a three-match suspension, Jeremy Toulalan a one-game ban, while Eric Abidal and the remaining members of the 23-man squad have escaped further punishment, having already missed the first match of Laurent Blanc's reign as coach. Evra, Abidal, Anelka, Ribery and Toulalan were earlier this month called to yesterday's FFF hearing to discuss the behaviour of the national team during the tournament in South Africa, when in-fighting led to them being eliminated in the group stage.
France's World Cup campaign descended into farce after the squad went on strike after Anelka was sent home from South Africa after an altercation with then coach Raymond Domenech. France also finished bottom of their group after scoring just one goal and earning one point in three matches. The fall-out from the team's lamentable performance led to new coach Blanc suspending all 23 members of the World Cup squad from his selection from the friendly against Norway in Oslo earlier this month, while the FFF also withheld bonuses owed to the players.
But the federation called only the five players who played a leading role in the strike. Ribery and Anelka - whose locker-room outburst triggered the protest - sent lawyers. Ribery, who was vice captain at the World Cup, did not attend the hearing because Bayern Munich refused to release him before their opening Bundesliga game Friday. Only Evra, the Manchester United left-back, Barcelona defender Abidal and Toulalan from Lyon attended the hearing, federation official Yann Le Guillard said.
Domenech was at the hearing along with then-federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and assistant coach Alain Boghossian. Anelka, at 31, has almost certainly seen his international career come to an end after 69 caps, which included being part of the victorious squad at Euro 2000. France's qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Championships in Ukraine and Poland spans 10 matches, meaning that, even with scheduled friendlies, Anelka's ban will last until after the tournament, when the striker will be 33.
A statement on the French Football Federation's official website, www.fff.fr, read: "The federal commission for discipline of the FFF has taken the following decisions: "Nicolas Anelka is sanctioned with an 18-game suspension from selection for the France team. "A five-game suspension from selection for the France team has been issued to Patrice Evra. Franck Ribery will have to serve a three-game suspension. Jeremy Toulalan is punished with one-game suspension.
"The commission takes note of the explanation provided by Eric Abidal, who has not been sanctioned." Jean-Louis Valentin, the former France team director who resigned following the farcical events in South Africa, earlier said the rebels deserved a second chance. After giving evidence at the hearing, Valentin said: "As a lover and supporter of the France team, I think everyone deserves a second chance." Valentin indicated the players expressed remorse for their actions. "I felt the players apologise, marked and scarred by what had happened," he said. "I think now they must know how to turn the page and move on. "There was a very good dialogue that lasted long enough." * Press Association
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