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France back in training

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BLOEMFONTEIN, June 21 (Reuters) -- The troubled France team returned to training on Monday to prepare for their final Group A match against South Africa, a day after boycotting a session in support of expelled striker Nicolas Anelka.

All the France players turned up on the pitch at their World Cup base in Knysna, Western Cape, and prepared normally for their final training before Tuesday's game in Bloemfontein.

Reporters were asked to leave after 15 minutes but a team spokesman said the session went on normally.

"Everybody was there," he said.

That included fitness coach Robert Duverne, who had a heated exchange with captain Patrice Evra on Sunday after finding out that the players had decided not to train.

Evra and his team mates did so to protest against the French Football Federation (FFF)'s decision to kick Anelka out of the squad after he insulted coach Raymond Domenech at halftime of a 2-0 defeat by Mexico last week in Polokwane.

Sunday's chaotic events also saw France team director Jean-Louis Valentin say he was resigning over what he called a scandal.

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The furore prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy to step in, asking sports minister Roselyne Bachelot to prolong her stay in South Africa to speak to Evra, Domenech and FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes on Monday.

The French press heaped scorn and derision on Les Bleus on Monday, lining up denounce the players, coach and French federation for a crisis that all agreed had brought shame to the sport and the nation.

French football great Zinedine Zidane also added his criticism to the actions by some of his former international team mates.

"Concerning the players ... I don't agree with the fact that they refused to go to the training pitch," Zidane, 37, who retired after the 2006 final which France lost on penalties after he was sent off for a headbutt, said in Johannesburg.

"There's two things that will be remembered from this World Cup -- the winner and the fact that the French team refused to attend the training session ahead of their match with South Africa."

The team were to fly later in the day to Bloemfontein, where a news conference with the coach and one player was scheduled for 1645 GMT.

France, who has frustrated its fans with uninspired performances since its Euro 2008 flop and needed a controversial playoff win over Ireland to win a ticket to South Africa, are in great danger of making another early exit.

Only if it scores a big win against the hosts on Tuesday and Mexico and Uruguay do not draw at the same time will it stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages.