Typically, after a week of strikes, resignations and accusations, France left the tournament with a row. As if he did not have enough enemies, Raymond Domenech finished by rounding on his South Africa counterpart, Carlos Alberto Parreira, for comments made in November that, because of Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland, France did not deserve to be at the World Cup. On the displays they have produced here, it would be hard to argue that Parreira was wrong.
"I went to greet Domenech [at] the final whistle as a matter of politeness because I knew he was stepping down," said Parreira. "But he told me I had offended the French team. I said I had no idea what he was talking about, but he mentioned what I said about the 'Hand of Gaul' incident. It is just lamentable."
Lamentable describes everything about what must be the worst World Cup campaign ever staged by a major sporting nation. The strike action on the Field of Dreams training pitches; the dressing-room rows; the dismissal of Nicolas Anelka; the decision to appoint Patrice Evra as captain in place of Henry and then to strip him of it before this latest debacle.
On Monday, the French sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, came to Bloemfontein to tell the France squad that they are "no longer heroes in the eyes of the nation's children". Tomorrow those players will fly to Paris to see their own children again. And they will make the 10-hour flight in economy. In contrast the South African president, Jacob Zuma, went to the dressing rooms at the Free State Stadium to congratulate his players, saying they had won the World Cup when they were awarded it. Needless to say, the French mood was different. "I have never been a boxer but I feel like I have been knocked out cold," said Florent Malouda.
Even before kick-off in a match they surrendered before the interval, there was a final confrontation. "Did some players refuse to take part in this game? Well not exactly," said Domenech, his thin voice drowned by the blare of the vuvuzelas. "But Eric Abidal came to me and said he was no longer in a fit mental state to play."
Neither were his colleagues – except perhaps for Franck Ribéry, who led a counter-attack of sorts that created a goal for Malouda, ending what had seemed a relentless South African charge towards the landslide victory that would have sent them through on goal difference.
The men in whom Domenech trusted at the end were a strange bunch. Djibril Cissé performed just as people in Liverpool would remember. The ponderous André-Pierre Gignac was replaced at half-time, while Yoann Gourcuff – the victim of most of the poison that bubbled up at their base in Kynysa – was sent off early for aiming an elbow into MacBeth Sibaya's neck. Domenech placed his head into his hands. He spent most of the match impotently surveying a wreckage that was partly his own making – just as Thomas Andrews, the Titanic's architect, stared at a picture of Plymouth Sound as his grand design went down.
Finally, and hopelessly late, he brought on Henry. Since France were two goals down and minus Gourcuff, it was asking a lot for him to change things.
France cracked early as the hosts, who 11 days ago had travelled to Johannesburg expecting to be humiliated, produced a performance worthy of an African team in the first African World Cup. Hugo Lloris went to punch Siphiwe Tshabalala's corner and missed, allowing Bongani Khumalo to rise above Abou Diaby and head home. The stadium exploded, and when Katlego Mphela bundled in the second, created by Tshabalala's cross, they needed just three more goals, from either a South African or Uruguayan boot. Uruguay broke through in Rustenburg while here Mphela had two opportunities, driving one venomously on to the post and the other, from a much tighter angle, into the side-netting. Then came the French goal and the acceptance that there were no more miracles.
There were many who wondered why South Africa had chosen to stage their decisive fixture at a rugby stadium in the heart of the old Afrikaner republic. There, said one taxi driver, "they do not use the vuvuzela – they sing". And when South Africa were two up and heading for redemption, they began a beautiful rhythmic chant; one of the sounds of the World Cup.
France (4-4-2): Lloris; Sagna, Gallas, Squillaci, Clichy; Diarra (Govou, 82), Diaby, Gourcuff, Ribery, Cissé (Henry, 55), Gignac (Malouda 46)
South Africa (4-4-2): Josephs; Ngcongca (Gaxa, 55), Mokoena, Khumalo, Masilela; Pienaar, Sibaya, Khuboni (Modise, 78), Tshabalala; Mphela, Parker (Nomvethe, 68).
Referee J Acosta (Colombia).
Man of the match Mphela.
FANS EYE VIEW
Yousef Ziu, a 21-year-old student from Leeds. Originally from Pau
The French people are embarrassed by this team. As a team of individuals they didn't do anything and I didn't understand it at all.
The World Cup has been very embarrassing watching as a supporter of the French. I felt a bit more for the players, they could have performed better but had everything against them.
I thought we were going to win today, but there was a poor mistake from [Hugo] Lloris for the first goal, and the defending could have been a lot better - if you don't mark a 6ft 5 striker you're asking for trouble!
The red card for Yoann Gourcuff was a joke, he didn't hit him with his elbow, he just jumped naturally. You see that in the Premier League all the time, and the most he would have been shown there would have been a yellow card. I watched the game in an empty student bar in Leeds with my friends, and they were all laughing at me over the poor state of my team. The coach was not doing the right thing continuously, not just over the last two matches. Most of the games when the camera cut to him you saw him just standing there, not giving anything to get the team going. The only inspiration we had this evening was when Thierry Henry came on for the last twenty minutes, he was riling the players up and getting them going but it was too late to do anything by then.
I think there will be a quick improvement now that Raymond Domenech has gone and Laurent Blanc is taking over. We have a good squad and good young players. The defence will be solidified once they start playing together, although Eric Abidal had a shocker the other night!
Nicolas Anelka left his country and it was sad to see him go and leave the players in a mess. I mainly blame Domenech for the situation though, he didn't have a clue what he was doing or what the players wanted from him. I can't blame the players too much, they are all good players individually, it is just something to do with them and Domenech. I don's see why Blanc couldn't have been in place before the World Cup. You can't go into the finals with a coach who keeps checking astrology and star signs! I just don't understand why he was in charge. After all the scandal involving Patrice Evra and Anelka they should have brought Blanc in for this match - it would have shown that they were standing up for the players. I was not happy with the squad from the start. Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Partrick Vieria, as a veteran, should have been chosen. Now that France have gone out, I think the winners will come from Spain, Argentina or Portugal. I am supporting Spain as that is where my mother is from.Reuse content