It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

France Surrenders!

One of the biggest shocks of the FIFA 2010 World Cup so far has been the French.  No, not the uncontrolled swearing of the players onfield, the French national team.  You know you've had a bad World Cup experience when the scandal of your star player being sent off for a head butt in the previous World Cup final is considered a minor oversight compared to the completely idiotic meltdown of the present squad.

It started at the end of qualifying. France finished second in their qualifying group behind Serbia, already a worrying sign for the 2006 runners-up. It was a bit like a Renault Formula One car being outpaced by a souped-up Yugo*. They faced Ireland in a two-match playoff and won on a controversial last minute goal. The goal was controversial because the player who provided the pass for the goal, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, only managed to make the pass because he controlled the ball with his hand. Twice. France were lucky to get out of Dublin without being beaten to a bloody pulp under a barrage of shillelaghs and hurleys.

FIFA and UEFA, the European soccer confederation, were petitioned by the Irish to overturn the unjust result. They responded in typical fashion, by patiently explaining to the Irish that nothing could be done to ever change the result because the referee's feelings would be hurt, FIFA would find it far more difficult to keep up their Champagne and Brie stocks, and the integrity of the game would be called into question by overruling a call for reasons so trivial as deliberate handball.  In response, Ireland declared war on FIFA and France, but the quick military surrender of the latter still did not lead to a change in the results.

So, France were off to the World Cup Finals in South Africa, led by their happy-go-lucky coach Raymond  "The Mad Hatter" Domenech (pictured right, in happier times). Domenech had led the team to their impressive runner-up performance in Germany four years earlier, but since then had developed a reputation for eccentricity that Howard Hughes would have found excessive.

It was well known that Domenech often made squad selections based on Astrology. He left Robert Pires out of the squad because he distrusted Scorpios. He also famously proposed to his girlfriend on live television... right after France were bounced out of Euro 2008. I guess he was looking for a silver lining.

The French Football Federation responded by announcing that Domenech would be replaced by highly-respected former French captain Laurent Blanc. However, in order to maintain France's reputation for efficiency and organization, they decided the change would not happen until after the World Cup finals.

After that two members of the French team then treated the international sporting press to a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute. It was almost as though they were trying to see how far they could go on the creepiness scale.

Given the controversy of qualifying, the scandal, and his own lame duck status, Domenech decided a novel approach was needed to World Cup preparation. He booked the team into a swanky Alps resort for a rigorous regimen of dune buggy driving. French center back William Gallas promptly crashed his buggy. Domenech suggested it was because the player's steering wheel was out of alignment with Mars.

Next, the team conspired to lose 1-0 to China in a World Cup warm-up game, a victory so surprising that several Chinese players left the field thinking they'd lost the match and that France were just sulking in victory. The French responded to the loss with internal squabbling about which players should start and whether or not Domenech was, in fact, a gnome.

Eventually, they reached South Africa without anyone being jailed, crushed by a dune buggy, or mortally wounded by an angry wife or girlfriend. They began with a flattering 0-0 draw to Uruguay, flattering in that France looked sleepier than Rip Van Winkle after an especially turkey-heavy Thanksgiving dinner. Had Uruguay not been confused by the impressive looking French jerseys and Franck Ribery's appearance in Nike's big World Cup commercial, they might have scored as many as ten goals.

They brightened up in time to be well-beaten by Mexico, a loss that was doubly ironic because Mexico wore green and white and celebrated both goals with routines from Riverdance. Immediately after the match Ireland officially declared Cinco de Mayo a national holiday.

This was the straw that broke the tenuous back of French sanity. Domenech subbed striker Nicholas Anelka out of the game and the psychotically-disappointed striker suggested his coach get jiggy with himself.  He also called Domenech a son of a w****, which given the recent French scandals might have been intended as a term of endearment.

Domenech, relying on Orion's current position and a mysterious telegram from notorious Israeli "psychic" and spoon designer Uri Geller, promptly told Anelka that his own services were no longer required and booked him on the early flight back to Paris, which was especially peculiar as Anelka plays for Chelsea, an English team based in London.

Anelka's teammates, distraught at seeing their teammate kicked off the team and the resulting disruption to the smooth-running French footballing operations, responded by refusing to train. French captain Patrice Evra presented Domenech with a letter from the players, demanding more playing time for bench players and less fortune cookies in the team diet. They also suggested they would have had more respect for Domenech if he'd simply headbutted Anelka and left it at that.

Evra then got into a public argument with the French trainer and the two were only prevented from  an entertaining slapfight by the quick thinking Domenech, who suspected that a practice field brawl was not a good idea with Uranus in retrograde**. The French players rewarded him for his peace-making skills by not allowing him back on the team bus. Domenech was forced to hitchhike back to the hotel.  Along the way, he lost the napsack containing all his star charts.

France lost their final group match, with South Africa, 2-1. This elated the South Africans and made their departure from the tournament somewhat more bearable. The French Football Federation however had reached their limit.  They immediately booked the team on a flight home, flying coach. The Federation spokesperson stated, "We wanted to fly them back via Ryan Air, to really punish them, but they don't travel this route."

Domenech, for his part, refused to shake the hand of Carlos Alberto Parreira, the Brazilian coach of South Africa. He then refused to explain his actions to the press, suggesting that they were extraterrestials. He did however provide them with a group palm reading and a seance.

The "piece de resistance" was a press conference with Zinedine Zindane, who so notoriously got sent off from the 2006 World Cup final. Zidane was asked about the turmoil and responded that it was a pity. At least someone in the French footballing world has a sense of proportion.

*Yes, I know Serbia is better than that and even beat Germany in the group stages of the finals. I couldn't resist the Yugo joke.
** Send in your own joke responses to this line and we'll publish the best. This article is already too long.

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