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World Cup notebook

Winger speaks to fans

French player issues apology

Associated Press / June 24, 2010

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France winger Florent Malouda apologized to his nation and its fans after the team’s disastrous World Cup, saying that restoring its battered reputation is now the priority.

Coach Raymond Domenech and his players flew home last night and were expected to receive a hostile reception from a nation shocked by their behavior during the tournament.

Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after verbally abusing Domenech, causing the rest of the players to refuse to practice two days before France’s 2-1 upset loss to South Africa that left the team in last place in Group A.

“It’s a complete disaster that we chose to express ourselves like this,’’ said Malouda, who flew out on his own. “We honestly didn’t know it would affect people so much. We could not imagine what would come after that. We’re really sorry for the French population and the French fans. That’s not what we want to show.

“The image we have shown to the world, the way they see France right now is a disaster. As players, we are the first responsible for that. Before the World Cup we had great expectations, and we are leaving without winning a single game.’’

France striker Thierry Henry will meet President Nicolas Sarkozy today to discuss the debacle. Yesterday, Sarkozy met with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot to talk about it.

France defender Patrice Evra said Tuesday that all the players had agreed to forfeit their bonuses.

Iniesta closer
Andres Iniesta is fit and eager to return for Spain’s crucial match against Group H leader Chile tomorrow. Having Iniesta would be a huge boost for the European champions, but it comes with a small dilemma for coach Vicente del Bosque. “I trained well, I felt well and I could do everything normally,’’ Iniesta, who has been bothered by a right leg injury, said yesterday. “The feelings are very good about being available. Whether I start is up to the coach.’’ While having Iniesta back is positive news for Spain, the Barcelona playmaker’s likely insertion into the starting lineup will mean more player changes, something that concerned critics after the opening 1-0 loss to Switzerland . . . Mexico forward Carlos Vela jogged more briskly in training compared to two days ago, giving the team hope he will recover from a right leg injury in time for a match against Argentina. Vela picked up the injury in the Group A match against France, and didn’t start in the team’s 1-0 defeat to Uruguay Tuesday. He seemed to have improved considerably in yesterday’s practice compared to the one Monday, when he alternated between jogging and walking while separated from the rest of the squad. Coach Javier Aguirre was more optimistic about Vela’s availability and doctors told him if Vela continues to progress, he should be available Sunday.

Clinton lends support
Former President Bill Clinton was in Pretoria to support the United States for its critical game against Algeria, which the US won. Clinton is the honorary chairman of the US bid to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022, and joined US Soccer president Sunil Gulati in a VIP box behind the team benches about a half-hour before the game. Wearing a red-and-white checked shirt and blue tie, Clinton waved and gave a thumbs up as US fans in the seats in front of him took pictures . . . Italian politician Umberto Bossi apologized for remarks that Italy would “buy’’ a victory in a crucial group match against Slovakia today. The comments by Bossi, a Cabinet minister, drew a sharp rebuke from the national soccer federation and fellow politicians.

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