World Cup Football: French with tears

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND and Wales were not alone in their head-shaking yesterday on the morning after the nightmare before. L'Equipe's seven-page autopsy on France's last-minute collapse to Bulgaria in Paris included the condemnation that the hosts were 'guilty of a slackness that no pub team would have matched', writes Henry Winter.

Gerard Houllier's side needed only a draw but lost 2-1, a result that sent Bulgaria through with Sweden from Group Six. Houllier's future as manager now looks as rosy as Graham Taylor's. Michel Platini, Houllier's predecessor, has been critical while the French federation's president, Jean Fournet- Fayard, said: 'We are not talking about chopping any heads off - yet.' After the tumble, the tumbril.

Houllier's men, who had also lost to a late goal against Israel last month, went ahead through Eric Cantona's fine shot before Emil Kostadinov equalised. The Porto striker then took Bulgaria into their sixth finals (where they have yet to win a game in 16 attempts) with a glorious strike, Kostadinov crowning a flowing move with a thunderous shot from an acute angle. A horrified Liberation at least found a sense of irony with 'France qualifies for 1998'. As hosts, Cantona's compatriots are in automatically.

Cantona's Manchester United team-mate, Peter Schmeichel, also misses out. In Seville, the Danish keeper failed to reach a corner and allowed Real Madrid's Fernando Hierro to head the goal that propelled Spain and the Republic of Ireland through from Group Three.

At least the fabulous Baggio boys will perform in the US. Dino Baggio, looking fractionally offside, scored Italy's winner over Portugal in Milan to ensure qualification but the real champion of the Azzurri cause has been Roberto Baggio, a goalscoring midfielder. Platini describes him as a 'No 9 1/2 - half-way between a playmaker (No 10) and a centre-forward (No 9)'. If Roberto Baggio does not excite those uncommitted Americans, few will.