This is an eulogy for the poor, misbegotten, and totally unprepared creature that got off an Air France flight in South Africa, walked into the World Cup, and was repeatedly beaten with its own fists until it left in a weeping, crumpled shadow of its former self. These are words written in honor of Team France by someone else, since they wrote none for themselves, and did play an important role in the opening acts of this drama.
For three games, they showed the world a proper French farce, one so expertly chaotic it made La Cage Aux Folles seem modest and amateur in comparision. The team required a handball by Thierry Henry to get in the tourney to begin with, and then flopped in three straight matches in between striking on their coach and refusing to practice. One striker, Anelka, was sent home; the remainder of the team alternated between icy detachment from the game and open complaint about mismanagement and discord. (Irony: this team had it in infinite layers.)
The coach, already an international laughingstock for his reliance on astrology in determining lineups, drove the team into the ground with engines at full once things got dicey at the tournament, making bizarre strategic decisions while doing nothing to defuse tensions on the team. When the end came in a 2-1 loss to lowly South Africa, Raymond Domenech capped his disgraceful World Cup by refusing to shake hands with South African manager Alberto Parreira.
In this sense, they were the most consistent team at the Cup: awful from start to finish and an offense to the word dysfunctional, since dysfunctional barely covers what this team was. The President of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, sounded genuinely stunned when surveying the wreckage of a team that in 2006 was a game away from another World Championship:
I am even more devastated by what happened last weekend. French football has brought shame on his country. I thought of all the fans who were not recognized in this masquerade. It made me (feel) even worse than the scores. We’ll have to take uncompromising stock about the causes in order to know how we got to this fiasco.
Fiasco is a harsh word, but for once it’s almost inadequate to describe what happened here. The art of semantics is a passion of the French, and they can debate precisely what degree of fiasco World Cup 2010 was for Les Bleus for the next decade if they like. What is not up for debate is their impending arrival in Paris ahead of schedule, and the time for the French to engage in another national pastime: the rolling of heads.