- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PARIS (AP) - The French Football Federation suspended Nicolas Anelka for 18 matches for his role in the France team’s World Cup fiasco, and handed a five-match ban to former captain Patrice Evra on Tuesday.

The FFF’s disciplinary commission also gave a three-match ban to Franck Ribery and a one-match suspension to Jeremy Toulalan. Eric Abidal, the fifth player summoned to the four-hour hearing, escaped any sanctions.

All 23 players on France’s World Cup squad boycotted a training session in South Africa to protest Anelka’s expulsion after he insulted then-coach Raymond Domenech during a 2-0 loss to Mexico.

But the French federation only summoned the five players who played a leading role in the mutiny. Ribery and Anelka _ whose dressing room rage triggered the strike _ sent lawyers. Ribery, who was vice captain at the World Cup, did not attend the hearing because Bayern Munich refused to release him ahead of its opening Bundesliga match on Friday against Wolfsburg.

Only Evra, Abidal and Toulalan showed up at the hearing, federation official Yann Le Guillard said.

“The players seemed sincerely sorry for what happened,” said former France team director Jean-Louis Valentin, who resigned when the players refused to take part in a training session and, instead, sat in the team bus under the eye of cameras from around the world. “I felt they were very affected by that event.

“It’s obvious that if they had to do it again, they wouldn’t do it,” Valentin said.

Domenech was among those who attended Tuesday’s hearing, along with then-FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and assistant coach Alain Boghossian.

Valentin, who attended the hearing as a witness and was the only one to comment later, expressed a clear measure of sympathy for what he said where chastened players. As far as he is concerned, he said, “everybody has the right to a second chance.”

He said that dialogue within the group called to testify was “excellent” and that Domenech was “dignified.”

“We talked again about the events. In some ways, there was a very good dialogue that was, at times, moving,” Valentin said. “Everybody was aware that there was a collective mess-up, and now we have to turn the page and move on.”

France was eliminated after the first round of the World Cup without winning a match. But it was the players’ actions, including the squad’s sit-in on the team bus, that drew condemnation from the French public, President Nicolas Sarkozy and other political leaders.

The players have already been punished financially, with the federation withholding their World Cup bonuses. Hardliners like Lilian Thuram, a former international and a member of the FFF council, said Evra should never play for France again.

France coach Laurent Blanc dropped all 23 players for his first match in charge last week _ a 2-1 loss to Norway in an exhibition. He’ll be without Anelka, Evra, Ribery and Toulalan for the 2012 European Championship qualifier against Belarus in September.