Two traumatic defeats... but the French see no connection

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The Independent Online

In the English press, it would have been the occasion for a festival of self-flagellation. In France, two stunning home defeats against supposedly inferior opponents within five days – one in rugby, one in football – have generated pages of gloomy commentary but no overarching theories or inquisitions into national sporting failings.

No French newspaper yesterday made the connection between the calamities which beset the two sets of Bleus. And yet there are uncanny similarities between the 17-12 defeat of France by Argentina in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup and the 1-0 defeat of France in the Euro 2008 Group B match against Scotland.

In both matches, a team packed with flair and talent were expected to impose their technical superiority on tough but limited opposition. In both matches, the opponents played out of their skins defensively and hit the French with a single sucker punch from distance (an interception and try for the Pumas; a 30-yard drive after a goalkeeper's clearance for Scotland). In both matches, the glittering, offensive talent of France flickered but failed to ignite.

It was left to Raymond Domenech, the coach of the France football team, to make a connection but only to attack the "pessimism" of the press. "We are in the same situation as the rugby team," he said. "As soon as we lose a match, we are declared dead."

France is treading familiar ground. French press commentary after Les Bleus lost to Argentina focused on the mysterious capacity of France rugby teams to delight and disappoint. Anxious analysis of Wednesday's defeat drew the parallel with November 1993 when a star-packed France team – Cantona, Ginola et al – lost 2-1 at home to Bulgaria and failed to make the 1994 World Cup.

Domenech suggested it was the virtues of the Tartan Army which had helped to defeat his team. "How could there be 25,000 Scots fans in the Parc des Princes?" he asked. "There were more Scots fans than French." The explanation, he said, was that the Scots had been more eager to snap up the tickets.

Is one of the most glorious periods in French sport – starting with the victory in the 1998 football World Cup – coming to a close? Do not bet on it. The France football team lost their opening World Cup match to Switzerland last year but went on to reach the final.

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