France shows how to make soccer exciting
The national newspaper Le Parisien had this observation on the French national soccer team's worse-than-woeful performance in the World Cup: "To have the worst soccer team at the World Cup was almost unbearable. To have the most stupid is intoler...
The national newspaper Le Parisien had this observation on the French national soccer team's worse-than-woeful performance in the World Cup: "To have the worst soccer team at the World Cup was almost unbearable. To have the most stupid is intolerable."
The players' intelligence figured in much of the commentary. The newspaper Le Progres said of the team's ignominious exit from the tournament, "Bye, dummies!" Even their own coach called some of their antics "unspeakably stupid."
"Les Bleus" winless, one-goal record did contribute a new term to the French vocabulary, "Le meltdown." The sports daily L'Equipe headlined with Gallic understatement, "The End of A World."
L'Equipe played a modest role in ending that world because it published the coarse details of what the American press likes to call "an obscenity-laced tirade" that star forward Nicolas Anelka unloaded on Coach Raymond Domenech during the halftime of the game with Mexico.
At least one French sports website believes that if Anelka's F-bombs had gone unpublicized, the forward would have stayed on the team and France might still be in the Cup. But he was benched for the second half, then thrown off the team and sent home, where he arrived in dark glasses and an oversized hoodie.
Given the temper of the team, even if he had stayed Anelka might have been an accident waiting to happen. His nickname with fans in the English league where he plays in the regular season is "Le Sulk."
Nonetheless, his fellow players went on strike the next day to protest Anelka's dismissal and refused to practice. An official of the French Football Federation was so disgusted that he shouted, "I'm ashamed!," and resigned straightaway by flinging his credentials on the ground and stalking off the field.
Meanwhile, team captain Patrice Evra got into a shoving match with a team trainer, for which he was stripped of his captaincy and benched for the coming game with South Africa, a match that would turn out to be the team's grand finale.
The French minister of sport, Roselyne Bachelot, addressed the team that night and reportedly reduced several of the players to tears. They had to be emotionally fragile because Bachelot is a former synchronized swimmer, not a sport known for its aggression and brutality.
In any case, the FFF, understandably showing little confidence in the outcome, told the players to pack up and bring their passports and suitcases to the stadium.
The game against South Africa started badly when Yoann Gourcuff was ejected for elbowing a host-country player in the head and the French had to play the final 65 minutes a man short. Back in Paris, crowds watching on a large screen by the Eiffel Tower booed their team.
Following the loss, Domenech repeatedly snubbed the South African coach by refusing to shake hands with him. The team that was a penalty kick away from being world champions in 2006 then left for the airport and the long flight back to France -- economy class.
The players announced that they would forfeit any bonuses, perhaps anticipating French President Nicolas Sarkozy's determination to see that none of them got any money anyway. He is determined there will be no repeat of le meltdown.
Every four years at World Cup time the debate is renewed over whether soccer can ever really succeed in the United States. The French team has shown that it can -- as reality TV.
-- McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.