June 20, 2010

Paraguay 2, Slovakia 0: Yes, you read that correctly. Paraguay beat Slovakia.

An even more entertaining spectacle than Las Albirrojas defeating the poor man's Czech Republic is the utter collapse of the French National team in the run-up to their final group game. By all accounts, the French head coach, Raymond Domenech, is nuts: there is no other way to describe a coach who admits to using astrology to determine line-ups and who is the subject of a hit song, "Je Kiffe Raymond" performed by a 51-year old former porn star, Catherine Ringer. After France's previous soccer debacle, after their quick elimination from Euro 2008, he used the post-match press conference to ask his lover to marry him, a troubling sign even for a nation that reveres Jerry Lewis as a comedic genius and the late Serge Gainsbourgh as a "poet."

So Domenech was on his way out after the tournament, no matter how well the team played, and perhaps the bitterness targetted from his team was inevitable. But the way these events have played out over the last four days is remarkable. Last Thursday morning, France entered the day in what was arguably the strongest position in its group, having shut down an impressive Uruguayan team in its opener. It then proceeded to shut down Mexico for most of its second game, only to have the Tricolores score on a bad call by the linesmen. Moments later, having to throw everyone forward in an effort to draw even, they draw a penalty, which the Mexicans converted into an insurance goal.

Even now, their chances of advancing are not out of the question; they only need to win, have either Uruguay or Mexico beat each other, and for both games to have combined margins equalling five goals (in comparison, at last years Confed Cup, the US advanced in the same situation in spite of having a six-goal margin to overcome, and with the team they had to surpass being Italy). The meltdown of the team is more connected to the lack of character among the players than the fact that their coach is a moron, especially when you remember that Nicolas Anelka's initial outburst occurred at halftime of the Mexico game, before the second half collapse. If I was the director of a major club, I would have a very difficult time allowing Anelka, another opportunity to poison the clubhouse; in fact, anyone on this team should be presumed guilty.

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