South Africa 2
Published 23/06/2010 | 05:00
The post-match mixed zone was turned into a footballing chamber of truth and reconciliation by the remorseful footballers of France. If the minister for sport Roselyne Bachelot was looking for an admission of guilt and an apology as the first steps towards rebuilding the image of French sport, she will have been pleased by the response of Les Bleus.
After France's last act ended in more humiliation -- a man sent off and defeat -- Florent Malouda spoke candidly about the poorly judged training-ground strike and the aftermath. He said the address made by Bachelot on the eve of this match left him emotionally floored.
"I have never been a boxer, but it was like you had been knocked out. Yeah, it was a complete disaster because we chose to express ourselves like this. We didn't know it would affect so many people, honestly," he said.
"There are no bad guys. I heard things like we were acting like gang leaders or something like that. Everybody, all the players, take responsibility for what comes. We are really sorry for the French population, the French fans. That's not what we want to show, that's not what we want people to think about France."
Deposed captain Patrice Evra, who did not play, spoke with obvious contrition and as a gesture he said that the squad would not accept one centime in bonuses. It was also transparent that the relationship with coach Raymond Domenech is beyond healing.
"It's time to say sorry. I apologise to the fans. My coach stopped me saying sorry yesterday. I'll explain things in the week. The French people need to know the truth and to know what happened. The team belongs to them. There's no reason why I wasn't on the pitch," he said.
If Bachelot was heartened by the players' response, she would have been less enamoured of Domenech, who refused three times to shake the hand of his South African counterpart Carlos Alberto Parreira after the match.
Parreira couldn't recall what he had done to offend. Apparently he claimed France did not deserve to be in South Africa because of the 'Hand of Henry' debacle that ensured qualification. Domenech logged it in his peevish mind.
It is understood that the French Federation have booked the players in economy for their immediate return to France and Malouda welcomed the news. It was considered appropriate action, the footballer's equivalent of sackcloth and ashes.
"We have failed from the sport's point of view and the image we've shown to the world. The way they see France right now is a disaster and we, as players, are responsible for that," added Malouda.
South Africa, in contrast, can be proud of their efforts, despite bowing out of their own World Cup. Two goals ahead at half-time, with Mexico losing to Uruguay in Rustenburg, they were within touching distance of realising their dream of reaching the last 16.
However, it was not to be. Malouda's deflating goal for France halved the lead given to the hosts by Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela and rendered the dream impossible. From requiring two more goals to qualify, South Africa suddenly needed four. Game over.
For the 70 minutes that Parreira's team carried hope, though, the joy of hosting the World Cup and the infrastructure that comes with it meant nothing in comparison to the football.
South Africa will go down in the record books as the first host nation to fail to progress from the group stages, but they signed off with a victory that suggested brighter days ahead.
Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, the poster boy of Parreira's squad, insisted that South Africa had proved their point against the shambolic French.
"People can never say that we didn't do our best," he said. "Through football, we have brought the whole nation together and that's all we need to say." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
South Africa -- Josephs, Masilela, Mokoena, Ngcongca (Gaxa, 55), Khumalo, Sibaya, Tshabalala, Pienaar, Khuboni (Modise, 78), Mphela, Parker (Nomvethe, 68)
France -- Lloris, Sagna, Gallas, Squillaci, Clichy, Gourcuff, Diarra (Govou, 82), Diaby, Ribery, Cisse (Henry, 55), Gignac (Malouda, 46)