Manchester United-bound Javier Hernandez sent 2006 finalists France to the brink of World Cup elimination last night as Mexico pulled off the latest upset in this most unpredictable of World Cups.
Eighty years on from the first game ever staged in the competition, a 4-1 win for France in 1930, the Mexicans gained sweet revenge as they heaped humiliation on Les Bleus and their under-fire coach Raymond Domenech.
Hernandez, who moves to Old Trafford next month in a reported £10m deal, came off the bench in the second half to give his side the lead, then saw veteran Cuahtemoc Blanco rub salt in France's wounds with a late penalty.
"I feel extremely happy," said Hernandez, the third generation of Mexican internationals whose grandfather was also 22 when he scored against France in the 1954 finals. "This is a great step forward and it will give us great confidence. I've always said I'm very happy to be going to United but right now I'm focusing 100 percent on my team here. After the World Cup I'll think more about my move."
The result means Raymond Domenech's side, who rarely looked up for the fight, face a second successive tournament exit after a disastrous Euro 2008 campaign. The French will be on the plane home unless they beat South Africa comfortably in their final group game. And even that won't be enough if Mexico and Uruguay draw.
Even though he guided France to the final four years ago, the charge against Domenech is that, with the rich talent at his disposal, his team have gone backwards amid rumours of dressing room tension and lack of cohesion.
Nothing illustrated that better than last night. After controversially squeezing into the finals via the playoffs, courtesy of Thierry Henry's handball against the Irish, Domenech's side were second best against a Mexican side who showed greater commitment, looked fitter and created far more openings. Conversely the likes of Franck Ribéry, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda once again failed to reproduce their club form at international level.
Hernandez opened the score when he beat the offside trap, rounded Hugo Lloris and planted the ball in the net. And the French capitulation was complete when Eric Abidal, who had a torrid night at full-back and is clearly on borrowed time, was adjudged to have fouled Pablo Barrera in the box. The veteran Blanco, who has now scored in three World Cups, doubled the lead by firing the spot-kick hard and true into the corner.
"I'll have to digest what has happened," said Domenech. "I'm disappointed for the whole of France. We have another match to play but I'm searching for words. I'm sure it's going to take two or three days for us to recover our pride."
He refused to explain why he resisted the temptation to give 51-goal Henry a chance. The Barcelona and former Arsenal striker remained on the bench throughout as France, who haven't found the net in a major international since November, again fired blanks.
"He's part of the group but not today," said Domenech who clearly took defeat personally and admitted his tactics had been a failure. "It's not up to us whether we qualify or not and that's a very sad situation but I'm not here to condemn anyone. We must be proud enough to try and go for victory in the next match. That's all I can say at the moment. I wasn't forecasting this result and we'll have to find motivation for the next game."
The Mexico coach, Javier Aguirre, heaped praise on his players: "We knew we needed to play really well tonight if we wanted to keep a chance of going through. We've been preparing for 13 months. We always try to be audacious, to make the most of our offensive potential to get the ball in the back of the net even if we do take risks."
France (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Sagna, Abidal, Gallas, Evra; Toulalan, Diaby; Govou (Valbuena, 69), Ribéry, Malouda; Anelka (Gignac, h-t).
Mexico (4-3-3): Perez; Osario, Morno, Rodriguez, Salcido; Juarez (Hernandez, 55), Marquez, Torrado; Vela (Barrera 31), Franco (Blanco, 62), Dos Santos.
Referee K al Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia).