Debacle is poetic justice -- French manager
A day of colourful theatre even by French standards ended with an appearance in Bloemfontein by the minister of sport.
Roselyne Bachelot delayed her departure from South Africa to make a direct appeal on behalf of French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the team to begin the rebuilding of the country's sporting reputation against South Africa tonight.
Ms Bachelot, who met the players personally and held court an hour after coach Raymond Domenech, said the picture of the nation's football team was a "moral disaster" and urged the players to think about the impact the controversy over Nicolas Anelka's exclusion has had on children.
The minister also spoke with the football federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, as well as Domenech, which makes the latter's performance even more remarkable.
Perhaps he wasn't paying attention. Instead of striking a conciliatory note in a packed pre-match address, the embittered French coach increased the divisions by throwing in his lot with the federation in opposition to his players.
The watching South Africans, harbouring slim hopes of progressing to the World Cup last 16, must have loved this absurd football drama.
Domenech began by hammering Anelka over his foul-mouthed exchange during the half-time interval against Mexico, then threatened to walk out if he was pressed on the issue. His captain, Patrice Evra, who ordinarily would have been at his side, was not in attendance. No explanation was given other than a dismissive platitude about actions not words.
"Explanations and excuses have no sense. It does not need more words, but actions on the pitch," said the French manager.
Domenech was unable to enlighten his audience on the make-up of the side he intends to put out.
"It is difficult to prepare in this context. There are no words to explain this. I hope their actions will speak louder than words. My responsibility is to prepare for tomorrow, that's what counts. The reputation of the French team is at stake over this game. The outcome will decide that issue," said Domenech.
The absence of Evra suggests that he and the senior figures that led the walkout of training on Sunday might not make the starting line-up. What is clear from the demeanour of Domenech is this French team is finished while he is picking the team. His account of his role in the whole episode, and why he chose to read a statement ensured that.
"The sanction against Anelka is justified. I support the federation. No one has the right to behave in such a way in the changing room. You must lead by example," said Domenech.
"I tried to persuade them that what they were doing was stupid and unthinkable.
"Less of the masquerade. Because everything was shown live I took the decision to read that message. I should have said that I in no way support their initiative.
"I do not support what the players did. Any further questions on this and I will leave."
This group is not yet settled. Though Uruguay and Mexico need only a draw to ensure passage to the knock-out stages, all outcomes are possible.
In truth, France have only a slim chance of emerging from the group, though that did not stop Domenech posturing oddly about his wish to put all this behind him on July 11, the day of the World Cup final.
A question about the Irish and whether they might consider the disintegration of the French in South Africa as poetic justice for the hand of Thierry Henry that ended Ireland's challenge slipped the censor.
After asking for clarification, Domenech added inscrutably: "What is happening is extremely poetic."
Domenech's contract ends after the World Cup. One might have thought he could not get out of there quickly enough.
Though he took the team to the final in 2006, he has been neither a success nor popular since.
In his outburst and the team's reaction to it, Anelka seemed to be expressing a view widely held. Despite all this, not only did Domenech not consider his position, he expressed a desire to carry on.
"I want to continue with all my heart," he said.
In his delusion, he still believes that France are not without hope.
"It is not a matter whether I have confidence in the team. It is up to them to show on the pitch and realise the magnitude of what has been done. We have a game tomorrow to show what we are capable of. The team and organisation is up to me. The rest is up to the players to show what they are made of. What the players did was stupidity. I live in the moment. It is important to realise the dream we still have," said Domenech.
That dream died with Anelka's parting. (© Daily Telegraph, London)