Fractured French team in critical clash against hosts
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A bitter French team beset by internal tensions will try to salvage some honour from their dismal World Cup performance when they take on hosts South Africa in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.
Bitterly divided France take on hosts South Africa on Tuesday, knowing that victory may not suffice to spare them an embarrassingly early exit. Should they fail, Les Bleus can expect a furious French public to show no mercy upon their return home.
To reach the second round of the competition, France need to beat the Bafana Bafana by a margin of at least three goals, and hope that the other Group B match, between Mexico and Uruguay, does not end in a draw.
At the best of the times, the task ahead of the French would be daunting; amid the current turmoil, it appears almost forlorn.
It remains to be seen whether France’s hapless coach, Raymond Domenech, can put together a squad that is fit to play.
At a press conference on Monday, he acknowledged that “some of the players may be too shaken, both physically and psychologically,” to even straddle the pitch.
Domenech said he could not rule out some players even refusing to play.
French farce on and off the pitch
French hopes appeared dead and buried as early as Thursday, when the team slumped to a dismal 2-0 defeat to Mexico. But since then, France’s campaign has gone from bad to worse.
On Saturday, reports of a foul-mouthed rant aimed at Domenech during the Mexico game prompted the eviction of star striker Nicolas Anelka. The media leak in turn sparked a hunt for a “traitor” within the French camp.
When French players refused to train the next day in protest at Anelka’s eviction, the team’s director resigned, politicians were forced to step in, and criticism of Les Bleus turned to vitriol.
The team that had so often been the pride of a nation had become the laughing stock of the world, and its failings had provoked profound soul-searching back home.
Bafana Bafana to make history
Les Bleus are not the only ones up against the wall.
Their opponents South Africa still hope to prove the bookies wrong by snatching an unlikely qualification.
The Bafana Bafana will also be desperate not to become the first host nation to exit a World Cup in the group stage.
Either way, they will make history.
South Africa also need a free-scoring win, as well as a favourable result from the other match.
Yet, unlike the French, they may hold their heads up high should they exit the tournament on an honourable result.
And, contrary to Les Bleus, they may count on the full backing of their vuvuzela-blaring fans inside Bloemfontein stadium.