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Scared Lemerre cries for justice

Paris: Former France coach Roger Lemerre says he has been left a frightened man after the French team were knocked out in the first round of the World Cup.

Lemerre, whose new team Tunisia drew 0-0 in an international friendly against Egypt on Wednesday, has still not come to terms with the holders’ early exit from the tournament in South Korea and Japan in June and the events that followed.

“It is still a delicate subject,” Lemerre said in an interview in Thursday’s Le Monde. “I came here (to Tunisia) to try to put myself back together. Anyway, I had to leave...I was hounded.

“Now I am afraid, I am frightened. What did I do to deserve that' I never let anyone down, I always acted loyally,” he said.

Lemerre was held responsible for France’s performance at the World Cup, where they failed to score a goal, but stubbornly refused to take the blame and resisted calls for his resignation.

He was slaughtered in the French press, which criticised him for an alleged stubborn attitude and inability to communicate when he insisted on sticking to a system that did not work, even when the players asked to play a different way.

It was not until July, almost a month after the World Cup exit, that Lemerre was eventually sacked by the French Soccer Federation. He had taken over from Aime Jacquet after France’s victorious 1998 tournament.

Lemerre took over last month as coach of Tunisia, a place where the 61-year-old, who led his country to victory at the 2000 European championships, still commands respect and is remembered for his successes rather than his failures.

But Lemerre says: “I don’t have a magic wand. Here, as in France, things move very quickly when you don’t get the right results. “You can’t stop people from hoping. In France, it was not easy to carry the weight of a World Cup title...To go back to basics is a good thing.”

France have gone five games undefeated since Jacques Santini took over from Lemerre in July, a run which culminated in a 3-0 victory over Yugoslavia in an international friendly on Wednesday, their last match of 2002.

Santini appeared very confident after the match. “This is one very important point for the future,” he said.

“We had to make a lot of changes before the match and during the match but I want to praise the new players and all their clubs...because when the players came on you could see they did not have trouble fitting into the team,” Santini said.

“During the talks I had with the players I made it very clear that it was essential to complete the year on a good note and we achieved our aim, even if we suffered for 20 minutes in the first half.”

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