Rarely can a country have greeted its own national team's humiliation in the World Cup with such grim satisfaction.
Under the headline "les imposteurs", the French national sports daily L'Equipe yesterday begged its readers to "shed no tears" for the France team defeated 2-0 by Mexico on Thursday night. "No sadness, no misery, not even any anger," said L'Equipe.
"That would be to give too much to these men who don't know how to give anything." The France team, runners-up last time and winners in 1998, was already deeply unpopular in France before two limp, goalless performances against Uruguay and Mexico.
In the run-up to the World Cup finals there have been scandals over visits by three players to a 16-year-old prostitute and persistent reports of rifts and hostile clans within the squad.
France's manner of qualifying last November – a blatant double hand-ball by Thierry Henry just before an equalising goal against Ireland – has left a bad taste in the mouth of many French football fans.
This, however, is nothing to the taste that it left in the mouths of Irish people everywhere. Mexico's victory – which all but removes France from the competition – was greeted ecstatically in Dublin bars by dancing, sombrero-wearing fans, who were dressed in the green of Mexico, not Ireland.
The most read story on the Irish Times's website yesterday was "French on brink of humiliating exit".
The Irish Examiner spoke for the nation when it wrote: "The Republic of Ireland may not be in South Africa but supporters of the Boys in Green will have savoured France's defeat to Mexico last night, a result that leaves Raymond Domenech's side staring at the prospect of saying an early 'au revoir' to the 2010 World Cup."
The tone of the French press was one of we-told-you-so satisfaction rather than wounded surprise or disappointment. "These Blues have nothing much left to do in South Africa," said Le Parisien. Its banner front-page headline read: "Lamentable".
L'Equipe, the daily bible for French sports fans, published a front-page editorial which amounted to a double-footed, over-the-top assault on the France squad and its bizarre, uncommunicative coach, Mr Domenech.
"Lets mock Raymond Domenech, stifled by his own ego... Let's laugh at stars like Franck Ribéry, William Gallas and Nicolas Anelka, who think themselves so superior," the newspaper said.
The France team were, it added, the "only trumpets (ie loud, annoying, empty vessels) able to compete with the vuvuzelas in South Africa".
The French Football Federation was also skewered by L'Equipe for failing to fire Domenech during France's lame progress through the qualifiers.
Domenech, who once said that he took astrological advice before games, is accused of being unable to control the stars within his own team and making insultingly monosyllabic replies to TV interviewers.
For failing to dump Domenech, the French football badge should "no longer be the cock but the headless chicken", L'Equipe wrote. The view of ordinary football fans was equally scathing and dismissive.
"By the end of the match, I was supporting Mexico," said Alain, 43, a chef in a Parisian café. "They at least looked as if they wanted to play and that football was still fun for them. Our guys – what do they earn? Millions? – looked bored, miserable and as if they didn't give a damn."
Very few French sports writers or fans had given any chance of France progressing far in this year's competition. Now even if Les Bleus win their final group game against the hosts, South Africa, they would still go out if Uruguay and Mexico draw on the same day.
The French run-up to the South Africa finals had been scarred by poor performances in friendly matches, including a 1-0 defeat by China in the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. There were persistent reports in the French press that "senior" players in the France squad, such as Anelka and Ribéry, could not stand – and would not pass to – a rising young star, Yoann Gourcuff.
Earlier, there were reports that three France players – Ribéry, Sidney Govou and Karim Benzema (not finally selected in the France squad) – had been questioned by police for visiting an under-age (ie, under 18) prostitute in a bar just off the Champs Elysées.Reuse content