If you wondered why the vuvuzelas seemed quieter last night, it’s because the crowd were holding their noses: the French truly stank out Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba stadium and were lucky even to score nil. They were put firmly in their place by a classy Mexico side, and now find that qualification for the knockout stages is out of their hands.
Raymond Domenech made one change to the side that played in the tournament’s nadir so far, last Friday’s 0-0 draw with Uruguay, with Florent Malouda evidently showing just enough contrition following his training-ground tantrum to earn a recall at the expense of Yoann Gourcuff. This morning, Malouda may wake rather wishing he hadn’t bothered; he was awful here, as were his team-mates from front to back.
Domenech, lest we forget, is the coach who dropped Robert Pires because he was a Scorpio. Who, faced with an angry media following France’s ignominious Euro 2008 exit, proposed to his girlfriend. Yet it takes a special kind of madness – some evil genius – to take so talented a group of players and have them produce so little. What right-thinking coach on the planet would take Malouda and Franck Ribery, two of the best natural wingers in Europe, and play them in midfield and behind the striker respectively?
But enough about France – any more of this and I’ll make the couldn’t score in a brothel joke again. Mexico were excellent and well worth the win, amazingly their first over France. Giovani Dos Santos was excellent once again, a lively presence involved in much of Mexico’s good work. Carlos Salcido also shone, the PSV full-back breaking forward constantly, though occasionally his final ball disappointed. While the game remained at 0-0 for over an hour, Mexico threatened constantly. France played like they knew what was going to happen.
Shortly after his introduction as a substitute Javier Hernandez sprung the offside trap, rounded Lloris in the French goal and slotted the ball home to give Mexico the lead.
France had few answers and fifteen minutes later it was over, Pablo Barrera brought down in the box for 37-year-old Cuauhtémoc Blanco to drive home from the spot after a comically protracted run-up.
This result means that even if France beat South Africa next week they need a result one way or the other between Uruguay and Mexico – a draw will send both of those clubs through. And on this evidence few would back France against the hosts.
In all likelyhood Raymond Domenech only has one more game in charge of France, with Laurent Blanc taking over after the World Cup. Blanc should be grateful for how drastically expectations have been lowered; he will take over a side at rock bottom, from where the only way is up.