Soccer

Ribery looking to the future after pain of 2010

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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP)

For a brief moment, Franck Ribery's smile disappeared and his face tightened: ''Do you think I want to answer that question?'' he said, his voice tense.

Ribery was asked Thursday to respond to a quip from Michel Platini who, the day before, was asked to rate France's chances at the European Championship. The UEFA president responded, somewhat sarcastically, that the French can do well providing ''they get down off the bus.''

Platini was referring to France's infamous training ground strike at the2010 World Cup, which shocked and embarrassed a nation, and where Ribery was handed a three-match ban for his perceived role as one of the strike ringleaders.

Only recently has the French public started warming to Ribery again, and he no longer wants to reflect on that dark chapter.

Ribery's fall from grace was spectacular, and perhaps unprecedented, such was his level of popularity from the time he broke into the French team at the 2006 World Cup until he was embroiled in a prostitution scandal - two months before the last World Cup - and then after the strike that dragged French football to its lowest ever ebb.

When he returned to play for France at home to Croatia last year, even though his ban was served, the French fans were merciless and jeered him relentlessly.

The French media questioned his form, while politicians called for him to be dropped. Only Laurent Blanc really stuck by him as his goal drought continued and his Bayern Munich form kept on eluding him when playing for France.

''Blanc always believed in me. Blanc and (assistant coach) Jean-Louis Gasset came to Munich to speak to me, which is something huge,'' Ribery said. ''There was a time when people were talking only about me, there was a lot of heavy criticism. They told me to get my confidence back.''

But even Blanc was running out of patience, until Ribery finally found his form again in blue shirt of France, scoring excellent goals in each of the three Euro 2012 warmup matches as France beat Iceland 3-2, Serbia 2-0 and Estonia 4-0.

''I had been waiting for this goal, and it felt so good to score,'' Ribery said Thursday, referring to his goal against Iceland last month, which ended a scoring drought of more than three years for France.

More importantly, for him at least, the crowd started to get back on his side.

So much so that, when he scored against Estonia to cap his excellent performance on Thursday night, the crowd in Le Mans rose to their feet to give him an ovation when he was substituted late on. For the first time in what must have seemed like an eternity to him, chants of ''Ribery, Ribery'' could be heard.

''It was great to see how the fans treated me. It gave me a lot of confidence,'' Ribery said. ''Everyone needs the backing of their fans, and I had lost that for a while in the French team. Now it's exactly the same with the French team as it is with Bayern.''

Now 29 years old, Ribery finally has a chance to put the past behind him once and for all, and star for France again - just like he did at the World Cup six years ago.



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