Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"It's a shame about Ray..."

SOUTH Africa’s footballers and fans have gone out on a relative high after all - while Raymond Domenech and France did the apparently-impossible and found a new low upon which to finish.
Just as the final whistle was blown on the latest French farce - leaving seemingly little more to do except get heads down, scurry down the tunnel and tout suite back to Paris - Domenech snubbed a handshake and thus embraced fresh indignity.
The coach loathed by his public, abused and humiliated by his players, but bafflingly backed for too long by his bosses, did try to end today's World Cup-ending defeat to South Africa by making up with his mutinous troops.
He could hold out a hand to such rebels without a conscience as William Gallas and Franck Ribery.
Yet he snatched it away again - only offering a wagging index finger instead - when his opposing number suggested the most straightforward of post-match pleasantries.
Carlos Alberto Parreira comes across as one of the most innocuous of personalities, and he appeared genuinely bemused when trying to account for the snub when facing the Press soon afterwards.
Domenech had attempted no such explanation, repeatedly ignoring requests he expand on what Parreira had done to deserve such a ticking-off.
It was left to Domenech's back-up staff to tell Parreira what had caused such offence - apparently a
Long-forgotten by Parreira, but not by Domenech - who evidently had too little to occupy his mind otherwise.
The outgoing French coach's typically-prickly post-match briefing included several incredible claims - above all, that his six years in charge had been 'a splendid adventure'.
He also rebuked reporters, threatened to walk out, denied any of his squad had refused to play - but rather ungraciously revealed Eric Abidal had pleaded to be excused, admitting he 'wasn't in a state to be able to play'.
Ah, but when has that ever meant the hapless Abidal missing out before?
Whether being sent off at Euro 2008 for France or in a Champions League semi-final for Barcelona, or clumsily conceding the decisive penalty against Mexico last Thursday, Abidal carries the air of a defender cursed - especially when inexplicably fielded in the centre, instead of marginally more comfortably at full-back instead.
Despite refusing to condemn the players this time, even praising them for only losing 2-1 once down to ten men, there was one subtle suggestion that, yes, he had headed a truly disfunctional body.
Domenech, who is being replaced by former national captain Laurent Blanc, added: ‘I believe the team has a future and I wish them long life.
‘I hope they’ll also be able to get to the next World Cup and they’ll find a team which they weren’t able to find this time.’
Of course, in other news, the home side made unwanted - though expected - history by becoming the first World Cup hosts to bow out in the first round.
Yet they were inspired by a rousing crowd in Bloemfontein, enjoying a 2-1 victory over a team already in meltdown - even before Yoann Gourcuff's first-half red card for giving MacBeth Sibaya an unhelpful elbow.
South Africa’s 3-0 defeat to Uruguay last Wednesday had left a nation dejected, but business and political leaders – including Nelson Mandela – had urged fans to rally for yesterday’s game.
President Jacob Zuma made a personal visit to the players’ dressing room to congratulate them after last night’s victory - then he and his security/wifely entourage briefly threatened to give Domenech a little relief, by blocking off journalists en route to the Press room.
The crowd had kept up a raucous din of vuvuzela horns and pro-‘Bafana Bafana’ chants throughout the 90 minutes - even if sloppy finishing meant Mexico still progressed on a better goal difference.
Spectator Mpho Mphake, 35, from Bloemfontein, said afterwards: ‘The team played with a lot of spirit, a lot of heart – they made us proud.
‘The atmosphere here today was great and we will still enjoy the rest of the tournament.’
After being snubbed by Domenech, a perplexed Parreira said: ‘As a matter of politeness I went to greet him, but he said I had offended the French team.
‘For the life of me I can’t believe what it is I’ve said. I’ve never insulted the French - on the contrary, I’ve always praised them.
‘One of the French coaches said in the qualifying matches, when Henry scored the so-called “hand of Gaul” I made a comment that perhaps France shouldn’t have been here.
‘It’s very lamentable this happened. It seems to be the attitude towards them is justified. I don’t remember saying anything like this.’
Even if he had, then so said the rest of the world - as affronts go, his was hardly the first or the worst.
Domenech need only glare at himself and his team if determined to declare: 'J'accuse.'

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