AFTER all the talk about hidebound, risk-averse football having the upper hand so far this World Cup, how refreshing to see it so defeated this evening.
They won’t only be hat-dancing but river-dancing on the streets tonight as France all but said au revoir to the World Cup, accompanied by Mexican waves – and Irish smiling eyes.
Even many France fans might take some – grudging – satisfaction in seeing the utterly odd Raymond Domenech embarrassed (again) this way.
I half-expected his first post-match statement this evening to merely amount to: ‘Ma cherie, can we try for a baby?’
But then, we know he’s eccentric – put it kindly. We know a manager should be getting so much more, from such a world-class selection of players.
It’s just that he’s made the selection of them such a mess – oh, and the direction, and preparation, and motivation, making tonight’s 2-0 defeat to Mexico as unsurprising as it must have been satisfying to so many.
Few Manchester United strikers can hope to score a goal so popular so widely, with those mythical creatures – ‘neutrals’.
Yet even by the craziness we’ve come to expect from Domenech, tonight’s approach still defied credulity.
Even with Nicolas Anelka starting on the pitch, the French seemed to be persisting with a striker-free formation – Anelka incessantly sauntering back into midfield, showing little sign of doing anything anywhere more dangerous.
Franck Ribery trudged around in an unusually central role but offered little beyond a laughably-long series of squandered free-kicks from outside the box, generously though the Mexicans kept gifting him another go.
Thierry Henry, for all his struggles this season, might, just might have done something more productive with one of them – but instead he was left languishing on the bench by a coach who uttered not a word from Mexican opener to final whistle.
Instead, rookie international Mathieu Valbuena was brought on to do very little, as had been journeyman toiler Andre-Pierre Gignac at half-time for the admittedly under-toiling Anelka.
The French were listless, unimaginative and – it appeared – unbothered.
And condemned anyway, surely, by the continued selection of Eric Abidal in central defence – not just lumbering and uncertain there, but a certified Jonah.
After receiving red cards there in Euro 2008, for France, and the 2009 Champions League semi-final for Barcelona, he found a variation on the theme by giving away the match-settling penalty tonight.
Perhaps the surging and exciting Barrera was already on his way down, but a second goal was no more than Mexico merited – and Cuahtemoc Blanco deserves a little respect, for the sheer audacious length of that fast bowler’s run-up.
The 37-year-old had been cheered to the rafters merely for warming up on the touchline, winning even shriller billing when he came on in a rhyming swap for Franco.
By contrast, it was easy to assume the emphatic boos greeting most French touches were prompted by their post-play off status as everyone’s favourite World Cup pantomime villains.
Yet the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane was crammed full of Mexicans – or, at least, some South Africans clad in the appropriate flags and sombreros.
Whoever they were and wherever they came from, they certainly made such a noise in this comparatively-cosy arena, that at times the ebbing and flowing of chants even emerged over the volume of vuvuzelas.
Actually, I’d thought for a couple of games that the noise of the horns seemed to have been toned down a tad – surely BBC boffins can’t have actually managed that inside the stadia?
The Mexicans deserved such acclaim, for their nifty technique and their – well, hey Bobby, what’s Spanish for va va voom?
But they too – like so many in this tournament so far – were happy to clog the path through to goal at times, forming very tight, seven-pack clusters behind the ball and ring-fencing their area.
But Javier Aguirre’s men, at least, and unlike some, do at least then try to push out as sharpish as possible.
Counter-attacking seems to be one of the themes of the week, with even blue-chip contenders like Brazil happy to soak up and then surge – and the pressing passers of Spain have found themselves stymied. For now.
A full seven days in now, and this World Cup on the pitch is beginning to both improve and intrigue – well, it is about time.