While I wasn’t considering France as true contenders to win this year’s World Cup, I (and the majority of fans, I believe) was counting on them going through this group stage.
Yesterday’s 2-0 loss to Mexico leaves France virtually out of the World Cup. If Mexico and Uruguay play to a draw in their match then even France beating South Africa wouldn’t solve the problem; on the other hand, if either Uruguay or Mexico win and France beats South Africa then the goal difference tie-breaker clearly doesn’t help France either (right now Uruguay has +3, Mexico +2 and France -2; France would need to score in numbers over South Africa to go through). Mathematically they can do it but realistically the World Cup is virtually over for “Les Bleus”.
With today’s loss by Germany, England’s woes, Spain’s loss against Switzerland, Portugal’s draw with Ivory Coast, it is clear some of the favorite teams aren’t having a good showing so far.
But for France this is utter humiliation. On the other hand, some countries have to be feeling good about what happened, namely Mexico (they played a markedly offensive and open game against France), Ireland (who were denied a World Cup berth- symbolically – by that Thierry Henry handball) and Portugal (because of Euro 2000 and World Cup 2006).
The reasons for a French downfall from the elite echelon of world soccer are easy to recognize and analysts have already started documenting them: a great generation of players retired, the team currently does not have a real leader on the pitch (after Platini, Cantona and Zidade, the closest France has is Ribery; but Ribery is more like a Scottie Pippen who needs a Michael Jordan, for he is that kind of player who can only play with plenty of space to maneuver) and coach Domenech is one of the most controversial coaches in this World Cup (the astral maps, the way he cannot build a real group, the distrust towards certain key players, etc). Also, the fact that it had already been announced, before the World Cup, that he would be stepping down at the end of the competition, to be replaced by Laurent Blanc, certainly doesn’t help.
This is the end of a soccer cycle for France. For the millions who were watching yesterday, at the end of the game, powerless Thierry Henry and Cissé warming up and talking to each other, disconnected from the game, not even coming in after their warm-up efforts, the end of such a cycle is remarkably clear.
We have also saw something else in yesterday’s remarkable Mexico win. I am not talking about the exciting style of play or even about the two generations who scored against France (37-year-old Cuauhtémoc Blanco certainly resisted the urge to attempt a “Panetta” penalty kick, but who can forget his “Cuauhtemiña” move in the 1998 World Cup; and promising 22-year-old “Chicharito” Hernandez, who is on his way to Manchester United).
Coach Javier Aguirre called the players who were playing in the Mexican league two months before the World Cup. He actually worked with them, as a group, for two months. The Mexican teams didn’t complain, for the national team is above every other soccer interest. And later the players playing abroad joined the group. Aguirre did what many coaches cannot do with their stars: train and work with them as a group for a reasonable amount of time. That is a key issue, even more so if we consider that many stars aren’t in this WC because of injuries and also that many others are clearly below their top shape because they were playing for their clubs up until just weeks before the WC, many in highly competitive and demanding leagues.
But we were talking about France? Let us see now how Laurent Blanc can turn things around in time for the Euro Championships just 2 years from now.