Ban could spell end of Anelka's France career

By Luc Folliet

PARIS (Reuters) - Nicolas Anelka was banned for 18 matches Tuesday for his role in France's World Cup revolt, a punishment that could spell the end of his international career.

The 31-year-old striker was banished from the France squad at the World Cup in South Africa for insulting coach Raymond Domenech at halftime of a 2-0 defeat by Mexico in Polokwane, his 69th international appearance.

The outcry sparked by his foul-mouthed comments and the length of the ban imposed on him by the disciplinary commission of the French Football Federation (FFF) mean the Chelsea player is unlikely to wear his country's colors again.

The fact that he did not attend Tuesday's hearing also suggests that Anelka, who scored 14 goals for France and never quite lived up to huge expectations, has accepted that his international days are over.

"We wanted Anelka's sanction to set an example," disciplinary commission president Jean Mazzella said.

Anelka was one of five players involved in Tuesday's hearing but the only one to be given such a heavy ban.

World Cup captain Patrice Evra was banned for five matches for leading a boycott of a training session over Anelka's banishment.

The FFF banned Franck Ribery for three games and Jeremy Toulalan for one. Eric Abidal escaped without sanction.


Like Anelka, Ribery, whose Bayern Munich club had refused to release him, did not attend the hearing. The other three were present.

France caused a scandal at the World Cup by refusing to train at their base in Knysna, Western Cape, after Anelka was sent home in disgrace.

"The players now realize that they should never have done such a thing," former France team director Jean-Louis Valentin, who testified during the hearing, told reporters as he left the FFF building.

"We have to acknowledge that they deserve another chance... Let's close this chapter and start another one," he added.

None of the players talked to the media after the hearing, during which Domenech and outgoing FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes also spoke.

Two days after boycotting training, France suffered a shock first-round exit from the World Cup with a 2-1 defeat by hosts South Africa.

Laurent Blanc, who succeeded the controversial Domenech as coach after the World Cup, refused to pick any of the 23 players involved in the boycott for his first game in charge, a 2-1 defeat in Norway earlier this month.

France start their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with a home game against Belarus on September 3.

(Writing by Bertrand Boucey and Patrick Vignal; Editing by Clare Fallon)