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French football chiefs face lawmakers over World Cup debacle

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
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French football fiasco
  • France knocked out amid apparent collapse in relations between coach and players
  • Raymond Domenech has now retired while president Jean-Pierre Escalettes has quit
  • Escalettes and Domenech to explain events at World Cup to lawmakers
  • FIFA has warned against political interference in French football federation

(CNN) -- The outgoing coach of France's national football team and the president of country's football federation were grilled by lawmakers Wednesday, following the team's ill-fated World Cup campaign.

Beaten finalists at the last World Cup, France failed to progress from the group stage amid an apparent collapse in relations between coach Raymond Domenech and his players.

Team captain Patrice Evra was reported to be incensed that details of an angry confrontation between Nicolas Anelka and Domenech at halftime during France's 2-0 defeat by Mexico was leaked to the media. Anelka was sent home afterwards.

Evra was then involved in a public dispute with the squad's fitness coach on the training ground a day later amid claims that he led the dissent over Anelka's expulsion from the team, with the entire squad boycotting the training session.

French team director Jean-Louis Valentin publicly announced his resignation to the media shortly after, before Evra himself was omitted from the team to face hosts South Africa in their final match.

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  • France
  • FIFA
  • Raymond Domenech

Domenech was later criticized for appearing to refuse a handshake from his opposite number, Carlos Alberto Parreira, after South Africa won the game 2-1.

Striker Thierry Henry, who was marginalized for much of the competition, has already spoken to President Nicolas Sarkozy, a football fan, about events in South Africa, but it appears the French Parliament is especially keen to hear from the men ultimately responsible for the team's performance.

"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," Roselyne Bachelot, the French Minister of health, youth and sports, said last week after she traveled to South Africa to speak to the dissenting players.

"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."

Jean-Pierre Escalettes also accompanied Domenech to the hearing, despite stepping down from his role as president of the French football federation on Monday. He said in a statement that he "clearly accepted" his responsibility and would "help analyze the reasons behind the fiasco of the French team's performance in South Africa."

CNN's Jim Bitterman says French lawmakers want to find out exactly how the relationship was between the federation, which they support to the tune of €80 million ($97 million) per year, and the team.

"They are angry that the image of France has been tarnished by events in South Africa," he said.

He added that one lawmaker inside the French Assembly was posting information about the hearing on Twitter before being told to stop. "I've been given a red card, end of tweets," his last post read.

According to Bitterman, the exchanges during the hearing were passionate and that Escalettes was reported as saying the team "behaved like a bunch of spoiled boys."

But the hearing comes a day after Sepp Blatter, the president of football's governing body FIFA, warned against any "meddling" in the running of the national federation.

"We don't want political interference," Blatter told reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa. "In the FIFA statutes, no political interference can be tolerated."

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