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Pierre's World Cup Diary

GAME 13, GROUP G, JUNE 13, 2006 --STUTTGART
FRANCE 0, SWITZERLAND 0
FINAL

The French are going into this like they've just got back from Dunkirk in 1940: Here's how Le Monde puts it this afternoon, on the front page: "After the mind-boggling defeats of 2002 and 2004 [in the 2002 World Cup the defending champion French were guillotined out of the First Round after scoring not a single goal, and had as blithering a showing at Euro 2004 in Portugal] the Blues begin the 2006 World Cup today in Stuttgart against a redoubtable Swiss team that has shed all its scruples [or complexes, as the French word has it]. Only a victory will enable forgetting the traumas of the previous World Cup, with that first-match loss to Senegal, 0-1, which derailed in one shot an overconfident team. Most of all, anything but a victory will compromise the harmony and cohesion of the squad."

Chers amis, get ready for a fun match that should make for a flashy clash between the stylish French (when they choose to be so) and the uninspiring Swiss, who play like a three-point cross between Italian, German and Irish football. It's fun to beat up on the French. They make it so easy. Even for me, who owes all to Jesuits and Voltaire, but against the Swiss I'd like to see them go on a rampage that would scare even Attila's braids. Back in a second.

Here we go.

2... nice loud atmosphere in Stuttgart.

3... Old Barthez in goal. I wonder how many kisses he got on that rounded Great Plains head of his today.

5 Not a fantastic start: More Descartian than Voltairean: a bit more doubt than lucidity in the French game, but the usual holes in the Swiss game.

10... Foul, foul, Thierry, foul. Pas trop bien. Shame Switzerland had to get into the tournament on goal difference, when Israel had its best chance yet. Imagine how interesting the World Cup in Germany would have been with Israel and Iran in the last 32.

12... Free kick chance for France outside the box...cleared to a corner by Switz... Oh! Patrick Vieira (no relation with Meredith, from the looks of it) just had the best chance but sent the ball bouncing ground-first above goal for France...

15... Whistle everybody! The Swiss are living down to their corked reputation. But here come France again...... hmmm, bad long pass: no communications. The French cell phones ain't working either.

17... So far the French look like the Americans: bad choice of older players to start the half, uninspired execution on the pitch. No French-kissing here.

20... No, a chess match would be more absorbing than this. This is more like football played as cricket. France is playing in perfect 2002 style. Switzerland at least has an excuse: it never pretended to have any style. C'est pas amusant, chers amis.

23... If the Swiss punish the French now, it'll be well deserved... AND THEY ALMOST DID! oN A GREAT, perfect free kick swerved right to the foot of a Swiss in front of the French goal, a touch, it hits the post (or does it? yes it does, smack!), comes back, they try again and send it bombing over the Alps...

26... Zidane just tried a nifty lateral pass at the top of the box, but his co-equipier couldn't get past the Swiss wall, and played into a turn-over. Excuse me? Barthez dated Madonna? Well, that must have lasted all of a 45-minute half: Let's hear it for Les Bleus: "Like a Prayer"

30... More like Les Bleus playing the blues. We're playing a game of fouls... Henry just started a good play here, lateral pass again to Ribery, and another shot sailing high above the Swiss Alps. The Swiss, however, are still not taking it to France. Henry attacks again, another weak shot on goal.

34... This game brought to you by the French law firm Morasses, Molasses and Degueulasses...

35... Of course the only thing missing from this game was the off-side flag, and here it goes, flying higher than the Tricolore

37... Oh! Oh! This play sums up the French failure: Ribery steals the ball at the edge of the box, runs in by himself, AND PASSES TO THIERRY HENRY instead of taking the clear-open shot! Mais quel idiot! Quel imbecile! (I'm only transcribing what I'm hearing from the French street)

38... Henry again, showing why he and Vieira (or anyone else he ends up with in the Swiss penalty box) are on very different wavelengths. BUT OK: a more exciting game now.

Henry is down. Henry wants back in.

43... My God this is a terrible game. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Lob past the goal line: that's the French play. French breakaway for Henry, but once again he shoots the ball in front of goal as if his foot was in a sling. Keeper hugs the ball safe.

And that's that. What we had in this half is a mixture between the theater of the absurd and a Cornellian tragedy: dullness incarnate, from both sides. Inexcusable.

Half-Time Fun...

From Kevin McCarra, blogging at Guardian Unlimited: "I'm on my way to Stuttgart to see France play Switzerland. My mind keeps drifting back to 1998 and 2000 when I had the good luck to watch them win the World Cup and, far more impressively, the European Championship. The hairs on the back of my neck used to stand up when they played that blood-soaked old song the Marseillaise before kick-off at Euro 2000 and not because I am a Francophile. It just happens to be the most stirring of anthems. The team was exciting as well. Arsène Wenger is right that people who say Thierry Henry hasn't really done it at the highest level forget how fantastic he was at Euro 2000 (apart from the final, when the team had a collective off-day). The trouble with France is that there is no need to wonder what the players are doing now. They are in Raymond Domenech's team. I exaggerate, but there is a kernel of truth. My knowledge of this coach is slight but I became concerned about him when French friends began telling me that he uses horoscopes to resolve football issues, such as the composition of the squad.

This, if true, is a disgrace to the country that brought us the apparent triumph of reason, the Enlightenment. He is supposed to earn about £250,000 a year (less than any of the club coaches in the French first division) but that could be a classic example of a false economy by the French Football Federation. Domenech's decisions only make a shaky sort of sense. He must have decided that Zinedine Zidane and the rest of the greybeards can achieve more through skill than younger French players can through stamina. The flaw, of course, is that the coach's predecessors reached the same conclusion and it brought the fiascos of the last World Cup and Euro 2004. I was part of a little group of British journalists who spoke to Marcel Desailly in Seoul on the eve of the tournament four years ago. Someone asked him if there was anything that could go wrong. Bizarrely he gave a frank reply that was as much prophecy as answer. The then captain said that if things started to go wrong France might just give up because they had nothing left to prove. It did go wrong, catastrophically wrong, as France indeed surrendered their title. There have been changes since then, but no radical shake-up. The harmony of the squad is doubted now with good cause and Domenech appears scared to let any turbulent talents into the squad. I have as many reservations about Nicolas Anelka as anyone but I would still have called him up in preference to Sidney Govou when Djibril Cissé broke his leg. It would have been Anelka's first World Cup and, most likely, his last chance to re-establish himself in the big time. Who knows what he might have done. Domenech's squad looks weird to me. To take one small example, how come Jean-Alain Boumsong is here? I realise he isn't anything like as bad as his Newcastle performances indicate, but I still fail to see how he got into the squad ahead of Roma's Philippe Mexès. The funny thing, though, is that I want to watch France anyway. Laugh at the Fifa rankings all you like but this team is still seventh in the world and maybe, maybe they are going to suspend the feuds in the camp and get all they can out of themselves. It would be great to enjoy Zinedine for what he is even now instead of remembering only the player he used to be." [the original link...]

And for the fun of it, here's how The New York Times's Jere Longman reported on France's World Cup Victory eight years ago:

"ST.-DENIS, France, July 12 - The French soccer team, which had aroused an indifferent nation with its exceptional play over the past month, delivered an even more stunning accomplishment tonight, dominating favored Brazil to win its first World Cup title. In winning the world's largest sporting event, 3-0, France produced the tournament's most improbable championship game upset in nearly five decades.

Zinedine Zidane, France's exquisite playmaker, scored his first two goals of the competition at its most decisive moment, heading in a pair of corner kicks and making the home team the champion of the tournament, held every four years, for the first time since Argentina prevailed in 1978.

Even after defender Marcel Desailly was ejected for receiving his second yellow card 22 minutes from the end, France kept attacking and produced a short-handed goal in the 93d minute from midfielder Emmanuel Petit. So much for the belief, held inside and outside France, that French athletes seldom have the confidence or poise to win the big game.

When this tournament began on June 10, France hardly seemed interested that it was the host of an event that dwarfs the Olympics in terms of international anticipation. But slowly the French grew consumed by their soccer team, and tonight hundreds of thousands gathered to celebrate along the Champs-Elysees and the plaza at City Hall. The revelry was disrupted later in the evening when a driver apparently panicked and plowed her car into fans near the Arc de Triomphe, injuring about 60 people, seven of them seriously, according to rescue officials. The partying had been going on all weekend, even if the French fans hardly dared hope that their team could win.

In the end, though, France clearly dominated this tournament, surrendering only two goals in seven matches with a compact defense that smothered Brazil's attack in midfield. With more precise shooting, France could have won by 6-0. Even so, the three-goal margin matched the largest in a championship game.

''We were not satisfied just to be in the final,'' said Aime Jacquet, France's embattled coach. ''We've been working toward this for two years and we deserved to win.''

Ronaldo, the Brazilian forward considered to be the best player in the world, was reduced to limping tonight by an ankle injury and tendinitis in his knee. The team doctor, Lidio Toledo, also said Ronaldo felt faint after lunch today but had begun to feel better after resting.

The O Estado newspaper of Sao Paulo, Brazil, relying on an interview with Ronaldo's close friend and teammate, Roberto Carlos, reported that the pressure to succeed had apparently led Ronaldo, 21, to suffer a severe case of nerves that included vomiting and dizziness."

SECOND HALF...

Good stat from ESPN: For France, 315 minutes and counting, going back to 1998, since its last goal (against Brazil; see article above). The second half starts with as much energy as the first. The crowd is riled up. But who isn't? I mean, this is France's one chance to show that it's more than talk. All it's showing so far is that DeGaulle is dead, Platini is history, and Zidane is fit for a nursing home. Excuse my French.

50... Zidane to Henry deep in Swiss end... corner. Hmmm. An attack over the horizon?

Can you believe it? "This is going according to plan for Switzerland right now," goes the announcer. Three teams in the world think a 0-0 tie is according to plan: Ireland (thankfully off somewhere in the Atlantic fog this time around), Italy and Switzerland. Germany used to be part of that club, barely, though Germans have always liked their quick put-away strikes too.

55... Even the crowd has lost some of its edge.Togo and Korea can whip both these teams. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, THERE HAS NOT BEEN A SHOT ON GOAL THIS ENTIRE HALF. THE BALL HAS BEEN HELD AS IF IN A SPIDER'S WEB OF MIDFIELD SHENANIGANS. Have we not the right to use full caps against these alleged kings of the cap?

58... The electricity flickered here (I'm coming to you live from Hurricane Alfredo-drenched Florida). For once, losing contact witha game might just be a saving grace. But here come France, repeating TWICE what it has done every time it's penetrated the Swiss box: it turns over, it hesitates, it shoots blanks.

60... We can safely say that at least, at last, the momentum has picked up. It is no longer a dull game, and it is going France's way. I smell goal the way I smell rain on an arid West Texas desert plain.

64... SWITZERLAND! AN ALMOST-GOAL BARELY, BAERLY SAVED AFTER A SCRAMBLE IN FRONT OF BARTHEZ, WHO WAS LOST AT SEA

67... Free kick Switzerland, from danger zone for France... no go. Still, France is lucky to be hanging on to its losers' tie. Zidane is yelling at Thurame, his teammate. But 60 million Frenchmen are yelling at their 11.

71... And another set play for France, another free kick from midway up the Swiss half, goes sailing past the goal-line like its previous ten lost siblings. The French have no balls. AND AGAIN, almost identical play, Henry was in to take the header but he was off side. Plus, he did nothing with the ball anyway. Plus, Paris is rebuilding the Bastille just to put these eleven into it. The guillotine is too good for them (and the US supremes have their doubts about lethal injection, judging from their arguments yesterday--should the French team choose as an alternative exile to the United States, where football underachievers are considered heroes).

75... Zidane now takes a shot from a Parisian suburb: he's figured out that playing the box is hopeless.

Ah ca ira ca ira ca ira NOT

81... A beautiful French breakaway, the best executed of the match, half the French team swooping down on the Swiss end, a lateal pass from a French player to Zidane, who sveltly touches it back to him for a kick that ended up smothered by the keeper. Great play, well broken up by the Swiss. But is it enough to bring this five o'clock tea party to life?

This email just in from Verlaine: "Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur mes Bleus."

87... No, nothing to report since that nice break-away. It'll be left up to Brazil and Croatia to salvage this day of disappointment from one of Europe's supposed superpowers of football. What I smelled earlier was not the smell of goal, but of goat cheese rotting in my neighbors' kitchen.

Injury time... the Swiss have themselves a free kick outside the French box...near side...If only they take it: there's a worldwide conference in the box, and a yellow card... get set again... ANOTHER PLATINUM OPPORTUNITY LOST FOR THOSE SWISS, who also get a well-deserved yellow for an attempted "Hand of God" bit of cheating. That's it for this lost cause of a game.

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