France’s World Cup squad arrives home after World Cup debacle; Henry meets president

France’s World Cup squad has arrived home to a cold welcome after a humiliating early exit that has been condemned by domestic media as a scandal.

French soccer player Thierry Henry

French soccer player Thierry Henry

PARIS — France’s World Cup squad has arrived home to a cold welcome after a humiliating early exit that has been condemned by domestic media as a scandal.

The team’s chartered plane landed Thursday in the small Le Bourget airport near Paris, where police guarded the tarmac to let the players disembark away from journalists and fans.

France was eliminated from the first round after a tournament in which they went on strike, failed to win a match and had striker Nicolas Anelka thrown off the squad for insulting the coach.

Domenech, who is retiring as coach, added yet more dismay by refusing to shake hands with rival coach Carlos Alberto Parreira after France’s last 2-1 loss to host South Africa.

Striker Thierry Henry, a former team captain and a 1998 World Cup champion who only played 52 minutes across two games in South Africa, stepped off the team plane and joined a small motorcade sent by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Henry went to a private meeting with Sarkozy, entering the Elysee Palace by a side door and making no public comment.

The soccer fiasco is taking an increasingly political turn in France, where the leading sports daily L’Equipe has dubbed the debacle “A state scandal.”

Sarkozy has vowed to personally investigate the matter. He met with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot on Wednesday to discuss ways to reform French soccer.

“The head of state asked the ministers to ensure that those responsible learn the lessons of this disaster quickly,” Sarkozy’s office said in a statement, implying that soccer officials could resign. “He also asked the ministers to ensure that no financial reward is given.”

Henry and some other team members have confirmed they aren’t taking any bonuses from the cup, including from private sponsors.

In Parliament late Wednesday, Bachelot described the team’s performance as a “disaster” that forced authorities to get involved. She slammed the national team as “immature ’gangsters’ bossing around frightened kids, with a powerless coach in disarray and a federation in shambles.”

The term she used to describe what she implied was a gangster-style hierarchy, “caid,” meaning “judge” or “boss” in Arabic, echoed the contention of some in France that the breakdown of the ethnically diverse team reflected the problems at play in French society — notably in impoverished suburbs, often heavily Muslim, where many of the French soccer team, including Anelka, grew up.

The French Football Federation made no comment after the team’s arrival except for a terse statement on its website announcing that the plane had landed and “team France disbanded.”

Sarkozy has called for a French soccer summit in October to rethink how the team and federation are organized.

Soccer results have had a strong impact on French politics in the past. When France won the World Cup in 1998, for instance, both the president and prime minister saw a double-digit surge in opinion ratings.