KNYSNA - France's disastrous World Cup campaign was plunged into fresh chaos overnight (NZT) when the players refused to train in protest at the decision to send home star striker Nicolas Anelka.
Amid chaotic scenes at their training base, the players released a statement protesting at the Chelsea striker's exclusion from the squad for a foul-mouthed rant during the defeat to Mexico which left France facing elimination.
"All the players in the French squad without exception wish to affirm their opposition to the decision taken by the French Football Federation (FFF) to exclude Nicolas Anelka," said the statement.
The players said they deplored the way the dressing room bust-up between Anelka and coach Raymond Domenech had been revealed by sports daily L'Equipe on Sunday.
"We regret the incident at halftime of the France v Mexico match, but we regret even more the divulging of an event which was only the squad's business and was part and parcel of the life of a top-level team," the statement added.
"The FFF did not at any point try to protect the squad," the players said.
"It took a decision based solely on facts reported by the press, without consulting the players."
The FFF kicked Anelka out yesterday, saying his outburst was "unacceptable".
The tensions in the French camp over the striker's exclusion rose to the surface when the players travelled to the training pitch in Knysna in their bus on Sunday, but - led by captain Patrice Evra - refused to start the session.
Manchester United defender Evra had a shouting match with France's fitness coach Robert Duverne before the scheduled session, leading Domenech to intervene.
A furious Duverne stormed off and threw his stopwatch across the pitch in frustration, in full view of TV cameras.
The players' refusal to train prompted top FFF official Jean-Louis Valentin, whose job is to liaise between the team and the federation, to announce he was resigning.
"I am disgusted, I am quitting my post," Valentin told the journalists watching the extraordinary events unfold.
"I am ashamed, I am leaving immediately for Paris. What has happened is a scandal for the federation, for the French team and for the whole country. They do not want to train, it is unacceptable."
After the players' statement was read out to journalists by Domenech, the players trooped back on to the bus to return to their hotel without starting the training session.
Anelka, 31, was sent home after refusing to apologise for the expletive-laden outburst at Domenech after the coach had criticised his low-key first-half performance in the 2-0 defeat to Mexico on Friday.
France, the 1998 World Cup winners and 2006 finalists, are supposed to be preparing to face host nation South Africa on Wednesday in their final group Group A game.
If Mexico and Uruguay draw their match, France are out of the tournament regardless of the result against South Africa.
Evra refused to blame Anelka on Sunday, saying the real problem in the squad was a "traitor" who had leaked details of the incident to the media.
Earlier Sunday, the team's star midfielder Franck Ribery made an emotional attempt to quash the rumours surrounding the team during an unscheduled appearance live on French television.
Ribery played poorly against Mexico after regular playmaker Yoann Gourcuff was dropped and there were reports the players had to be pulled apart after clashing on the plane taking them back from the game in Cape Town to their base.
But Ribery described the stories as "nonsense".
"I have no problem with Yoann. Saying I fought with him is nonsense," said the Bayern Munich star during what was supposed to be an interview with Domenech on TF1.
"Of course, (the team) fell apart," Ribery said. "It's France that's suffering, our country. I'm suffering. Everyone in the world is laughing at us."
Bixente Lizarazu, a member of the victorious 1998 squad, compared the extraordinary events to cult TV series "X-Files".
"We're in an episode of X-Files, it's science fiction," he told RTL radio. "Everyone's losing it."
Marcel Desailly, his teammate in that squad, told Britain's ITV: "We love this generation of players. We are really sad. It's a shame."