In England, it isn’t difficult to run into Francophobia. Sometimes it feels as if a range of feelings from mild dislike to irrational, rabid hatred are hard-wired into our DNA. As such, those of us that like (or even love) the country that lies just the other side of the English Channel can find ourselves fighting the corner for what became and remains this country’s biggest rivals. This summer, it has been the French football team which has made some laugh and others cry, becoming the laughing stock of world football – for twenty-four hours, at least.
For those of us that were born in the late 1960s or early 1970s, one likely outlet for Francophilia was the national football team. The French national team of the early 1980s, the team of Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Dominique Rocheteau and Jean Tigana, was almost impossibly romantic. At the 1982 World Cup finals, they were, according to received wisdom, robbed of a place in the final by the antics of the West German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher, whose attempt to decapitate Patrick Battiston went unpunished in a match which ended in a penalty shoot-out which Schumacher won for the West Germans. Two years later, however, France won the European Championships on home soil. It was a victory of brilliance and almost unbearable tension. The brilliance come from Michel Platini, who scored nine goals in five games, whilst the tension came in the form of an impossibly close semi-final against Portugal in Marseille, a match which (rightly) is regarded by some as the greatest ever played. In Mexico two years later, they were beaten again in the World Cup semi-finals by the West Germans.
Since then, though, the French national football team has had an element of boom and bust about it. They reached the summit of world football on home soil in 1998 (having failed to reach the finals of the previous two World Cup finals) and became the European Champions again two years later. Since then, the ups and downs have continued. Knocked out of the World Cup in the first round in 2002. Runners-up and beaten only by a penalty shoot-out in 2006. This summer’s World Cup finals, however, have seen a fall from grace so dramatic that the big question now is whether the French national team can ever fully recover from it.
Their qualification, of course, not come without considerable controversy with Thierry Henry’s brace of handballs in quick succession against Ireland during the second leg of the play-offs against Ireland, and the least that France’s class of 2010 owed to rest of the football world was to prove that they warranted their place amongst the thirty-two competing nations. They couldn’t have failed in this respect more spectacularly, more definitely or more abjectly. We have seen the team’s deficiencies in glorious technicolour, but any moral highground that Raymond Domenech may have believed that he held after the team refused to train on Sunday afternoon were swiftly dissolved as he refused to shake hands with the South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira after his team’s 2-1 defeat by the host nation this afternoon. Domenech subsequently claimed that his refusal to shake hands was over something that Parreira had said regarding the way in which France had qualified for the finals.
Parreira denies having made such a comment, but this is besides the point. Such comments are often made in the build-up to a match and can be tidily placed in the file marked “harmless gamesmanship”. Domenech’s refusal to acknowledge his opponent at the end of the match was a final, classless gesture from a coach that has proved to be a beaten man, whose team, we can safely assume, did not merit their place at the finals of this particular World Cup. His team had spoken for itself on the pitch, and Domenech’s actions spoke louder than words after the final whistle had blown.
South Africa, meanwhile, exit the tournament with commensurate dignity. They may well be the first ever host nation to be knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage of the competition, but they have been far from the worse team on display, and were it not for an insipid display in one match against Uruguay, they wouldn’t have been turning out in their final match chasing insurmountable odds over overturning the goal difference that they had ruined by losing 3-0 in their previous match. That it should be they that knocked the final nail in Domenech and France’s coffin may feel like scant consolation for their early elimination from the competition, but they were many miles from being the embarrassment that many had predicted prior to the start of the tournament.
France, meanwhile, leave the World Cup, and Laurent Blanc will be picking up the pieces from this particular debacle. Au revoir France. Adieu, Raymond Domenech.
For a more succinct look at France at the 2010 World Cup finals, take a look here.
Thanks once again go to Historical Football Kits for the use of their graphics.