France’s finals fate out of their hands

THE Republic of Ireland may not be in South Africa but supporters of the Boys in Green will have savoured France’s defeat to Mexico last night, a result that leaves Raymond Domenech’s side staring at the prospect of saying an early ‘au revoir’ to the 2010 World Cup.

Few will shed any tears at their current plight. To add to the delight of those of a bitter disposition, there was more than a hint of controversy about the second-half goal that put Mexico on the road to victory last night.

New Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, a second-half sub, looked suspiciously close to being offside when he enhanced his burgeoning reputation by racing on to Rafael Marquez’s pass, rounding goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and coolly slotting home at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.

Add that to the penalty France were denied against Uruguay in their opening game when a Thierry Henry shot – who else? – appeared to handballed in the penalty area, and it’s easy to see why Domenech’s men will feel the footballing gods have been against them.

Few will sympathise though, as it seems that what goes round does indeed occasionally come round.

France’s fate was sealed when veteran striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored a 79th-minute penalty after Eric Abidal brought down Pablo Barrera. The result left Domenech shattered.

“I have no words,’’ he said. “It’s a real disappointment for all those who believed. The match turned on one moment and we didn’t know how to respond. Pity. There are good intentions, desires, but there is still something that didn’t quite work out. I have no words. It’s more than disappointing.

“I do not know what I will tell my players. There’s still a game to go but we need a miracle. We’ll have to be tough and play for honour. There is still something to play for. We must react. We must at least show something in the last game. If we’re depending on other results, we’ll have no control. I’m feeling very low.”

Florent Malouda said he was ashamed by France’s display and called for them to salvage some pride in their final Group A game against South Africa.

“We must save our honour because it is shameful to lose like that. Whatever happens, we can not leave the competition without winning a match,’’ the Chelsea winger said.

It was Mexico’s first win over France and no less than they deserved after a performance full of vigour and attacking invention.

Most of the fluid, attacking football was played by Mexico, particularly before the interval.

Uruguay’s win over South Africa on Wednesday night to go top of the group had increased the pressure on both sides but they responded with some refreshingly open, if not decisive, play.

Early on Franck Ribery’s 35-yard free-kick bounced in front of Oscar Perez but, unlike Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi who blundered on this semi-artificial pitch on Sunday, the Mexico goalkeeper collected easily.

But whereas France were restricted to set-pieces, Mexico looked dangerous from open play.

Marquez’s ball over the top saw three team-mates set off in pursuit; Arsenal’s Carlos Vela reached it first but could not keep his 12-yard volley down. Former West Ham striker Guillermo Franco was no closer when he turned William Gallas on the edge of the area.

Mexico left-back Carlos Salcido twice went close, drilling wide of Lloris’ left-hand post and then shooting straight at the goalkeeper.

Even the loss of Vela, being watched by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, to injury just after the half-hour did not interrupt the Mexicans’ fluency as sub Pablo Barrera was straight into the action when Lloris punched Salcido’s cross against him and was fortunate to see the ball bounce wide.

Giovani dos Santos flashed a shot wide before Jeremy Toulalan was booked in added time, ruling him out of France’s final group match against South Africa.

The second half began with Andre Pierre Gignac coming on for Nicolas Anelka and Chelsea team-mate Florent Malouda, restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Yoann Gourcuff, having a shot tipped over by Perez.

But the introduction of Hernandez for Efrain Juarez soon after had an almost immediate impact. His pace took him clear – though there were questions of offside – and his talent did the rest.

When Abidal brought down Barrera, Blanco side-footed home from the spot. A draw against Uruguay will put both sides through and send France home, whatever their result against the hosts.

Subs for France: Gignac for Anelka 46, Valbuena for Govou.

Subs for Mexico: Barrera for Vela 31, Hernandez for Juarez 55, Blanco for Franco 62.

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