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'I felt lonely'-Henry

PARIS, June 25- Former France captain Thierry Henry said on Friday he felt sidelined after playing only a cameo role in his country's disastrous World Cup campaign, but insisted the squad were right to show support for Nicolas Anelka.

"I felt sidelined. People didn’t speak to me as they used to," Henry told Canal Plus television in his first interview since France crashed out following a miserable tournament, which ended with a humiliating defeat to hosts South Africa that left them bottom of their group.

Henry, the only survivor of France’s 1998 World Cup triumph, said he was "no longer" the big brother figure that the squad’s younger members looked up to.

"Previously, people talked to me more, I was at the forefront," said the 32-year-old.

But that changed when coach Raymond Domenech indicated before the tournament that Henry would be relegated to the substitutes’ bench.

"When you no longer have credibility in a group it becomes difficult," admitted the former Arsenal and Barcelona star, who appears set to wind down his career in Major League Soccer in the United States.

"I felt snubbed and after a bit your pride takes a knock."

France, finalists in 2006, limped out of the World Cup early after a 0-0 draw with Uruguay and defeats by Mexico and South Africa.

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Their campaign exploded in controversy on Saturday when Chelsea striker Anelka was sent home for a foul-mouthed rant at Domenech, with the players boycotting the following day’s training session in protest.

"My first explanation for the fiasco is that we did not play well. We weren’t up to it," said Henry.

Asked to comment more specifically on the Anelka episode, which made international headline news after L’Equipe sports daily quoted the striker’s outburst on its front page, Henry said: "Perhaps there was something beforehand (between Anelka and Domenech) — maybe a malaise."

He added: "What struck me above all was how it got plastered on page one. What I do know is that those were not Nico’s words. I know what he said but I’m not Nicolas Anelka. I shall let Nico say what he has to say.

"I think we had to show our support for Nicolas. Those weren’t his words."

But in retrospect, Henry, who said his meeting with French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday "went well", conceded that the decision to refuse to train was unwise.

"With hindsight, you can say it was a mistake," he said.

Henry also hinted that there is no longer the same respect for veterans as there was when he first broke into the France team 13 years ago.

"When I first got capped you waited to see where the veterans were going to sit on the coach. At Monaco (as a teenager), I got sent to clean the balls even after I had won the World Cup.

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"Maybe there is no longer that respect. But it’s a problem in society generally, isn’t it?"

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