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World Cup notebook

French failure reaches legislative level

Associated Press / July 1, 2010

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French legislators huddled behind closed doors to investigate an issue of extreme national importance — not terrorism or recession, but the French soccer team’s meltdown at the World Cup.

From taxi drivers to President Nicolas Sarkozy, France is taking the fiasco very close to heart and demanding answers. Yesterday’s extraordinary parliamentary session defied a warning by soccer’s governing body that political power shouldn’t meddle with sport.

For the French, this is about more than sports. It’s a blow to the national honor at a time when the country is already worried about its decline in the world. Soccer-proud England and Italy, too, are wondering whether their World Cup failures are glitches or a sign of a broader malaise.

The way France, winner of the 1998 World Cup and runner-up in 2006, left this year’s Cup hurt the French as much as the losing itself.

They finished the first round without a single victory, after players went on strike and refused to train because forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting the coach. Then there was coach Raymond Domenech’s last gesture at the Cup: refusing to shake hands with the rival coach after France’s final loss to South Africa.

Yesterday, French lawmakers summoned Domenech and Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes for a grilling on how it all went so spectacularly wrong.

Lawmakers said Domenech, who is retiring, tried to pin blame on the media during the hearing.

A Spanish Villa
Move over Cristiano Ronaldo, and make room for David Villa as Iberia’s biggest football star.

While 2008 world player of the year Ronaldo was again subdued as Portugal was eliminated, Villa scored his fourth goal of the competition for a 1-0 win that took Spain into the quarterfinals. Villa moved to the top of the tournament scoring charts with Robert Vittek.

“David Villa is on fire, which is really good news for us,’’ Spain defender Gerard Pique said.

Villa showed the sort of scoring touch against Portugal that Ronaldo has been lacking for his national team. And with seven World Cup goals overall, the 28-year old is Spain’s best ever at the tournament.

Good luck, farewell
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan withdrew the national soccer team from all international tournaments for two years following its elimination from the World Cup during the first round.

The withdrawal is to ensure that the “embarrassing outcome of the World Cup in South Africa won’t repeat itself,’’ Jonathan’s spokesman, told reporters yesterday in the capital, Abuja.

Nigeria was eliminated June 22 after going 0-2-1.

Lars Lagerback was appointed to coach the Nigerian side, known as the Super Eagles, in February. He has been offered a new four-year contract by the Nigerian Soccer Federation, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported yesterday. Lagerback stepped down as coach of Sweden in October after failing to help that nation qualify for the World Cup finals.

Germany on alert
German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger accused quarterfinals rival Argentina of showing no respect for opponents and referees. Germany eliminated Argentina on penalty kicks four years ago at the same stage and there were chaotic scenes after the shootout, with both sides exchanging punches and kicks in a fracas that included team officials from both benches. “The shootout is still in our memory, but what really weighs heavily on our minds is what happened after that match,’’ Schweinsteiger said yesterday. “We have to remain calm and not get provoked and I hope the referee will be very alert. You could see their behavior at halftime of the game against Mexico,’’ he added of a pushing and shoving incident during the second-round match. “When you look at their body language and gesticulations, the way they try to influence the referees, they have no respect. It’s their mentality and character and we’ll have to adjust.’’ . . . Javier Aguirre has quit as Mexico coach, three days after the national team was knocked out in a 3-1 loss to Argentina. It marked the fifth straight time that Mexico has been eliminated in the second round. Aguirre said yesterday he was “the person responsible’’ for the loss.

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