Zidane denies having role in France row

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The Independent Football

France legend Zinedine Zidane has denied suggestions he still has a significant influence over the dressing room and has been instructing the current players to challenge coach Raymond Domenech's authority.

The players returned to training today after they boycotted yesterday's session in protest at striker Nicolas Anelka being sent home after his row with Domenech became public knowledge.

Les Bleus' campaign has been dogged by rumours of disharmony and even suggestions 1998 World Cup-winner Zidane was trying to influence team selection.

However, the former Real Madrid and Juventus midfielder, who quit football in disgrace after being sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi as France lost the 2006 World Cup final, has refuted the allegations.

"Thinking that I can call the players to put pressure on the coach four years after I have retired is serious," said the former France captain, 38 on Wednesday.

"I never had a problem with [Domenech] but I never had a good feeling for him.

"But I respected his instructions. As captain, I was talking, but he was the coach and I respected the rules.

"I never gave my opinion on the composition of the team. I have always respected the rules."

Zidane also voiced his opposition to the team walking out of training yesterday.

"I am against the fact that Les Bleus do not train - but I'm not inside group. That's why it's better for me to be quiet," he added.

"There's a new coach in Laurent Blanc (who takes over from Domenech after the tournament) who will change all of this.

"I don't think you can blame one player or another but Laurent Blanc's arrival will change everything that is happening within the team."

France are facing an early exit from the World Cup, as they experienced at Euro 2008, heading into their final Group A match against South Africa tomorrow.

The side have to win convincingly and hope there is a positive result between Uruguay and Mexico, the two teams currently top of the table.

Zidane still holds out hope his compatriots can regroup after a distracting couple of days and secure qualification.

"Even if that many people will laugh, I hope to see France in the final," he said.

"I am disappointed by the first results of Les Bleus but anything is possible.

"There is still a small chance for the team to emerge victorious from this group."

The French Football Federation have already announced they will hold an investigation on the whole affair after the tournament is over and the country's president Nicolas Sarkozy has also become involved.

He has asked sports minister Roselyne Bachelot to meet with the key people involved and she told television station TF1: "We are taking note of the indignation of the French people and...calling for dignity and responsibility.

"It's not yet the right time to take disciplinary action but that time will come very soon."