Malouda says sorry to French fans after another embarrassing exit

Florent Malouda, the France winger, has apologised to his nation and fans of Les Bleus after the team's short-lived World Cup campaign.

Florent Malouda shakes hands with a steward following France's Wolrd Cup exit on Tuesday.
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KNYSNA // Florent Malouda, the France winger, has apologised to his nation and fans of Les Bleus after the team's short-lived campaign and conceded that restoring their battered reputation is now a priority. Raymond Domenech, the coach, and his players are expected to return home today to a hostile reception from a country shocked by their behaviour during the tournament.

Nicolas Anelka, the striker, was sent home for abusing Domenech, causing the rest of the players to go on strike and refusing to train before their 2-1 loss to South Africa on Tuesday that left them bottom of Group A. "It's a complete disaster that we chose to express ourselves like this," Malouda said. "We honestly didn't know it would affect people so much. We could not imagine what would come after that. We're really sorry for the French population and the French fans. That's not what we want to show. The image we have shown to the world, the way they see France right now is a disaster. As players, we are the first responsible for that. Before the World Cup we had great expectations, and we are leaving without winning a single game."

Thierry Henry, the France striker, will meet Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, today to discuss the debacle. Sarkozy yesterday urged a review of French football and said no player should receive bonuses after their dreadful tournament. "The head of state asked the ministers to make sure that those responsible draw the consequences for this disaster," the president's office said in a statement yesterday.

Opinion among the players seems to point to Domenech as the main culprit for the failure. "There is a cause for all this failure, several things will come out," said Patrice Evra, the France defender who was stripped of the captaincy by Domenech on the eve of the South Africa match. "Then, if people don't want to forgive, at least they will know the truth." Whether it was Domenech's failure to manage the squad, the attitude of Evra and other players or an interfering French Football Federation (FFF), the answers promise to be more entertaining than the team's performances.

"The End of a world," read the dramatic headline on the front page of sports daily L'Equipe yesterday. Not only did France go out at the group stage for the second consecutive major tournament without a single win, but the behaviour of Domenech and the extraordinary training-ground mutiny only added to the problems on the field. On Sunday, the squad refused to train over the FFF's decision to send Anelka packing after details of his expletive-filled rant were printed in L'Equipe. Anelka had insulted Domenech at half time during the 2-0 loss to Mexico. The amazing scenes from France's training ground, as Domenech broke up an altercation between Evra and a fitness coach, were beamed live back to the nation. One FFF official stormed off, shouting "I'm ashamed" before resigning on the spot.

Malouda was the only France player to score and the enormity of the embarrassing exit hit him hard. "I have never been a boxer, but it's just like you get knocked out," he said. "When you see the atmosphere in the stadium, you wanted to stay in the competition but we know we don't deserve it. What can we do? Go home. We deserve it." * AP