17 June ~ Watched by 15 million viewers in France, France v Uruguay on Friday only served to sink the already low expectations of French fans. Many now fear that today's match against Mexico will be just another painful step towards an ignominious First Round exit. There is, however, a concerted effort to put a positive spin on the game and encourage the nation to get behind the team against Mexico and South Africa.
After the 0-0 draw with Uruguay, sports minister Roselyne Bachelot congratulated Les Bleus on their "unity", exclaiming "we have rediscovered the incredible team spirit lost for 20 years!" and pointing out that, with 20 shots on target, France were an attacking force to be reckoned with. For captain Patrice Evra the team were "solid" and "confident", whereas coach Raymond Domenech underlined his satisfaction with an interesting insight into his mind: "What really pleased me was that we killed their game." But he admitted that something was missing – the finishing touch in front of goal.
The problems, though, are probably deeper. Veteran TV summariser, Jean-Michel Larqué, wrote in Tuesday's France Football that he was sick of the "insipid official line" given by staff, players and other employees of the French delegation: "Domenech's speech after the match was the same as Evra's, it was the same one we've heard for months and it's the exact opposite of what everyone had just seen with their own eyes... it's lies and it's insincere."
Domenech, however, revels in annoying the media and obviously enjoyed surprising pundits late on Friday by dropping Florent Malouda to make room for Abou Diaby in a 4-2-3-1 formation. There are calls are for him to make room for Malouda and Thierry Henry in the team against Mexico and there's a lot of technical, tactical discussion in the press on how they are going to do that (dropping Nicolas Anelka and Yoann Gourcuff are the most popular suggestions). In the end, though, it's difficult to second guess what Domenech will ultimately decide. In his role as TV pundit, Robert Pires suggested to Malouda that he could play on the right instead of Sidney Gouvou. But Malouda replied that though he would play anywhere except in goal, he had no idea whether he'd be playing today or not and wouldn't dare suggest to the coach that he should.
The solution, according to Zinedine Zidane, is to ignore Domenech. Speaking on Canal Plus he is one of the few voices to openly attack the French coach on TV. "He's a problem... He's not a coach.. he's the team selector, he's chosen a team but it's down to the team to play together... they have to bring the missing ingredient." His take on the Uruguay match was the opposite of Roselyn Bachelot's: "They are not playing as a team. Every player is trying to make a difference but in isolation. Games like this are won collectively, not by individuals." French supporters can only hope that Zidane's message hasn't fallen on deaf ears. Neil McCarthy