french sneak home

PARIS - France's World Cup squad arrived home yesterday to a cold welcome after a humiliating early World Cup exit that has been condemned by the country's media as a scandal.

PARIS - France's World Cup squad arrived home yesterday to a cold welcome after a humiliating early World Cup exit that has been condemned by the country's media as a scandal.

The team's chartered plane landed in the small Le Bourget Airport near Paris, where police guarded the tarmac to let the players disembark away from journalists and fans.

France were eliminated from the first round after a tournament in which they went on strike, failed to win a match and had striker Nicolas Anelka thrown out of the squad for insulting the coach.

Raymond Domenech, who is retiring as coach, added yet more dismay by refusing to shake hands with rival coach Carlos Alberto Parreira after France's last 2-1 loss to hosts South Africa.

Striker Thierry Henry, a former team captain and a 1998 World Cup champion who only played 52 minutes across two games in South Africa, stepped off the team plane and joined a small motorcade sent by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Henry went to a private meeting with Sarkozy, entering the Elysee Palace by a side door and making no public comment.

The football fiasco is taking an increasingly political turn in France, where the leading sports daily L'Equipe has dubbed the debacle "a state scandal". Sarkozy has vowed to personally investigate the matter. He met Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Roselyne Bachelot, the sports minister, on Wednesday to discuss ways to reform French football.

"The head of state asked the ministers to ensure that those responsible learn the lessons of this disaster quickly," Sarkozy's office said, implying that football officials could resign.

"He also asked the ministers to ensure that no financial reward is given."

Henry and some other team members have confirmed they were not taking any bonuses from the Cup, including from private sponsors. - Sapa-AP

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