Official appeals to France's team

Off The Ball for June 21st

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa -- French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot says she reduced France's disgraced World Cup stars to tears with an emotional speech on the eve of their final Group A match against South Africa.

With the France team on the verge of elimination from the World Cup ahead of Tuesday's game, Bachelot called an emergency meeting Monday to tell the players they had let the country down and had one last chance to redeem themselves.

Bachelot said the players "applauded me and they were crying" after her speech.

She said she asked the team: "How would you like people to remember you?"

"What image do you want to leave behind?" she added.

France has to beat South Africa and hope Mexico does not draw with Uruguay in the other group game to have any chance of advancing.

French soccer has been in turmoil the past few days, ever since sports daily L'Equipe printed details of striker Nicolas Anelka's expletive-filled rant at coach Raymond Domenech during halftime of last Thursday's 2-0 loss to Mexico.

The French soccer federation sent Anelka home Saturday evening, and the French players protested the decision by refusing to practice the following day. Footage of the players refusing to come out of the team bus were beamed back to a shocked nation. Domenech himself called the strike "an aberration, an imbecility, a stupidity without name" Monday.

Bachelot recounted what she told the team on the eve of the critical game, to be played later Tuesday.

"It's your kids, our children, for whom perhaps you will no longer be heroes. It is the dreams of your partners, your friends, your fans that you have perhaps broken. You have tarnished the image of France.

"French soccer is facing a disaster, not because it lost a match but because this disaster is a moral disaster. The reality of the situation must be faced head-on. It is not merely just a bad period that must be gotten through, nothing will be like it was before. I said so to the players in an extremely emotional meeting."

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