Tuesday, June 13, 2006


France 0-0 Switzerland

Okay. Forget what I said about "Old Europe" down there. Just forget it. At least, forget it about it so far as France are concerned. They were wretched this evening, as bad as they were four years ago, and this time they didn't even have the excuse of having travelled half-way across the world. They just couldn't be bothered. Zidane doesn't look capable of playing more than an hour at this level any more, Henry doesn't appear to have been told what the tactical plan is (if, indeed, there is one), Wiltord was playing as if it was a Sunday morning kick-about, and as for Ribery... well, they'd have been better off starting with Platini. In fact, De Gaulle's corpse would have shown a better first touch.

The Swiss looked as if they were taken by surprise by it all. The match crawled along at a snail's pace, with Switzerland full of graft but lacking in quality, and France lacking in... well... anything, really. Switzerland had the best chance of the first half - a free-kick lifted into the penalty area while the French defence was apparently looking at a particularly pretty butterfly that had flown across the pitch drifted through to hit the post, Frei opted to volley when it would have been easier to head, and the ball, predictably enough, ended up sailing harmlessly over. France had a convincing claim for a penalty turned down, but you'll forgive me not weeping because it wasn't given.

The second half wasn't much of an improvement. Dhorasoo shot narrowly wide for France towards the end, and Switzerland were denied a goal in the dying seconds when Frei inexpicably punched the ball wide when Djourou was waiting behind him with an open-goal at his mercy. He got a yellow card for his troubles. At the end, the French were booed from the pitch by their own supporters. They deserved no more.

No matter how fractious relationships between England and France may get, it never really extends to football. Our eyes mist over when we think of the 1982 World Cup semi-final, of that balmy night in Marseille against Portugal, and Platini's birthday goal against Brazil in 1986. We wish that "La Marseillaise" was our national anthem. We wish that we'd hosted the World Cup and won it recently. They won, and they won in style. They lost, and they lost in style. They were amongst the artisans of World Football. Neither as arrogant as Brazil nor as faceless as the Germans. But now...? They have a get-out clause, of course. They're in the easiest group of all. They should still qualify against South Korea and Togo. But as long as they play so shapelessly, seemingly bent on fielding star names that don't seem to care with no system to speak of, it might be about as good as it gets for them.


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