France’s Anelka banned 18 games for Cup protest

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PARIS (AP) - Nicolas Anelka’s profane tirade at the World Cup may have been his last act with the French national team.

He was suspended for 18 games Tuesday, one of four players banned by the French soccer federation for a World Cup mutiny that was criticized by President Nicolas Sarkozy and underlined an embarrassing first-round exit.

The federation also handed suspensions _ subject to appeal _ to former captain Patrice Evra (five games), Franck Ribery (three games) and Jeremy Toulalan (one game). Eric Abidal, the fifth player at the four-hour hearing, escaped punishment.

Anelka’s suspension is expected to last nearly two years. By the time the 2012 European Championship comes around, he will be 33 and possibly too old to make the team _ if the French qualify.

“They (the players) are a bit bruised by the way things unfolded,” said Jean Mazzella, president of the disciplinary commission. “They didn’t think it would take on the proportions that it has, that’s for sure.”

The players already have been punished financially, with the federation withholding World Cup bonuses.

All 23 players on the 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.

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, vice captain at the World Cup, did not attend the hearing because Bayern Munich refused to release him before its opening Bundesliga game Friday.

Only Evra, Abidal and Toulalan attended the hearing, federation official Yann Le Guillard said. Domenech was there along with then-federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and assistant coach Alain Boghossian.

“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 practice 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.”

France was eliminated without winning a game. But it was the players’ actions, including the sit-in on the bus, that drew widespread condemnation from the public, Sarkozy and other political leaders.

“The players must have pride in the French colors, and think of all the young people who are training to become football players,” Mazzella said. “That’s important.”

Since returning from South Africa, Anelka has complained that he was upset with Domenech for playing him out of position. He said he thought of quitting the team before the World Cup but stayed because several teammates asked him to remain.

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

“Those sanctions are weakening the future of the France team,” said Rudi Garcia, the Lille coach. “We need to again find a conquering France team with all its assets. Laurent Blanc himself said that we shouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. Well, there are a few toes hurt.”

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AP Television News producer Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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