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France able to draw little comfort from display lacking goals and ideas

Uruguay 0 France 0

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that when a crowd launches into a Mexican wave in the first 10 minutes of a game, the contest is not an enthralling one.

Mexican waves are the footballing equivalent of loudly rustling popcorn packets in a cinema and, should there ever be a film made about this game, as there has been about the 1990 semi-final between England and West Germany, it would go straight to DVD.

The result ensured that Raymond Domenech's three tournaments as France manager have each begun with a goalless draw. Naturally, he and his players preferred to focus on the 2006 campaign that rolled all the way to the final in Berlin rather than the fiasco of Euro 2008 that started with a stalemate against Romania and did not improve.

The French have a saying: "Les absents ont toujours tort" – the absent are always wrong – and the South African cameras flitted frequently to Thierry Henry, who began on the bench and Florent Malouda, whom most would have expected to start.

They were each given a quarter of an hour by Domenech against a Uruguay side that was to be reduced to 10 men. In his pre-match press conference, their manager, Oscar Tabarez, interrupted a question about Uruguay's reputation for thuggery by pointing out that in a pre-tournament friendly with Switzerland, the Swiss had picked up five bookings to nil.

Once the proceedings were properly under way, however, Uruguay reverted to type. With a little over 10 minutes remaining, Nicolas Lodeiro was dismissed for a second bookable offence. Since he had only been on the pitch for 18 minutes, this was quite an achievement. In Montevideo they admire footballers with garra, or grit, a quality Diego Forlan possesses in abundance but too often in major tournaments it has been used as a cover for some wild tackles.

Forlan was voted the man of this match, not an honour he would set alongside his Europa League medal with Atletico Madrid, but too often he was left isolated by his midfield, although after the interval he appeared to be the most dangerous player in two toothless sides.

Domenech accused the South Americans of continually trying to provoke his players. However, since reaching the semi-finals in 1970, Uruguay have played 15 World Cup matches and managed one victory, and this was a statistic that seldom looked as if it would be improved upon even with a full set of players. However, when Bacary Sagna replied to a question of "what did France lack?" with the words "a goal", it was a ludicrous over-simplification. France lacked much, much more than that.

High up in the stands at Green Point, which when seen from Cape Town's waterfront looks like a giant Victorian bath shrouded in white muslin, Sagna's club manager, Arsène Wenger, stood, hands in his pockets, surveying the scene. His presence at France internationals must be like the Scotland manager glancing up and seeing Sir Alex Ferguson at Hampden Park. Would he have started with Henry or taken Karim Benzema to South Africa rather than Djibril Cissé?

Out in the cheaper seats those French fans who had come to the Cape enticed by the prospect of football and rugby internationals on successive days, unfurled a banner urging Zinedine Zidane to come back. There is a line in Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson about a nation turning its "lonely eyes" to a now-departed Joe DiMaggio, and the country whose football has stuttered from crisis to crisis since Zidane took his leave of the international game with a head-butt in a World Cup final must look at the great midfielder in the same way.

There were other banners around Green Point; Irish flags. One said "Henry: Le Cheat". They will always have Paris and the scar of injustice whenever Henry's handball is recalled, and they had come to the Cape to see France humbled. A quarter of an hour into the game, they were asked to take the banner down and threatened with a night in the cells if they did not.

Wenger at least saw a commanding display from Abou Diaby, who seized control of central midfield early on and rarely threatened to let it go. By the end of the first half, Uruguay's badly overstretched right-back Mauricio Victorino was resorting to crude body checks to halt the Arsenal player's progress.

We were not to know it but by the 10th minute France's best chance had come and gone in the shape of a low cross from Franck Ribéry that Sidney Govou just failed to slide in. He missed by inches but his team are miles away.

Uruguay (4-4-2): Muslera; Lugano, Godin, Victorino; A Perreira, Perez (Eguren, 87), Arevalo, M Pereira, Gonzalez (Lodeiro, 64); Suarez (Abreu, 73), Forlan.

France (4-1-4-1): Lloris; Sagna, Gallas, Abidal, Evra; Toulalan; Govou (Gignac, 85), Gourcuff (Malouda, 75), Diaby, Ribéry; Anelka (Henry, 71).

Referee: Y Nishimura (Japan).

Man of the match: Diaby.

Attendance: 64,000.