Tag Archives: France

Entire France team suspended

France and Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc

Well, “suspended” is a term loosely used here. New France coach Laurent Blanc will not pick any of the 23 players from the World Cup for the next friendly against Norway on 11 August. It’s something that needed to be done and I didn’t think, in a million years, that he would do it.

After the squad’s mutiny in defense of monumental douchebag Nicolas Anelka, it had to be done. Patrice Evra was a poor choice as captain and his willingness to stage (lead?) a wildcat strike shows that. I can understand wanting to defend your teammate but, at the same time, it’s not like Anelka is a symbol of stability. Evra would have been better off talking to the squad behind closed doors rather than making everything private. Of course, there’s just something so very French about a petulant mass walkout. (This does not absolve the French Football Federation of blame for going to the World Cup with a terrible coach in Raymond Domenech, just to be clear.)

What’s the impact going to be? A couple of world-class players will miss out on 1 cap. Evra will likely be stripped of his captaincy and, if I were in charge, frozen out for a while. That’s about it, unless Blanc is a lot bolder than I think he is.

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Slovakia defeated Italy on 24 June 2010 (David Cannon/Getty Images)

For the first time in World Cup history, the two finalists from the previous World Cup did not make it to the knockout stage. France’s exit was hardly unexpected, given that they weren’t very good and, perhaps more importantly, karma’s a bitch. That would be divine retribution for Thierry Henry’s blatant handball. But Italy is another story. Slovakia’s 3-2 victory was a bit of shock.

The Italians have developed a bit of a reputation as slow starters who eventually get all their pistons firing. Strange thing about 2010, though, is that never happened. Italy constantly looked lethargic, with bad passing and inadequate players. In fact, Italy looked old. And that, boys and girls, was the main problem. The Italian team was old; it relied too much on old warhorses like Fabio Cannavaro, who should have been thanked for his service and reduced to a substitute. The strikers couldn’t find the net; in effect, they couldn’t do their job. Marcello Lippi, who left the field without shaking hands with the Slovakian manager (which I really have no problem with, but it is kinda classless, though he redeemed himself by falling on his sword at the post-match press conference), failed to inject the squad with youth. And yes, I mean Giuseppe Rossi, among others. How much did he want Rossi to come on the field in the second half for a much-needed spark? I know that’s what I wanted.

The problem is a little more systemic, though. Italy was an old team because they don’t have young players to replace the veterans. The lack of development at Italian clubs is catching up with the national team (for example, everyone makes a big deal out of the fact that Italy’s best team – Inter Milan – did not have one Italian on the World Cup squad), and it’s going to cost them. The Italian FA need to ensure that domestic clubs develop talent. And the national team needs to start accepting players that don’t play in Italy (England and Spain have better leagues).

This is hardly a crippling problem, to be sure. It is fixed relatively easily. The Italian FA needs to hire a manager unafraid to make changes.

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A solitary giggle

Poor King Charles laid his head on the block
January 1649, down came the axe, and
In the silence that followed, the only sound that could be heard, was a solitary giggle,
From Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England

Nicolas Anelka v. Raymond Domenech (AFP/Franck Fife)

It figures that the geniuses in Monty Python would be best able to describe my feelings as France implodes. First, Nicolas Anelka was sent home yesterday because he refused to apologize to manager Raymond Domenech for a “foul-mouthed tirade” at half time of the Mexico game. Anelka is reported to have said, according to French publication L’Equipe, “Go fuck yourself, you son of a whore.” Now that seems pretty bad, especially without context, but I wouldn’t put it past the temperamental Anelka to say something like that. I would also not put it past the rather idiotic Raymond Domenech to put one of his players in a position to say that. So, nobody wins (except me, because this made me giggle).

Now, today, the entire French team, led by captain Patrice Evra, refused to train. Apparently, the players are united by a protest against Anelka’s expulsion. It’s important to note that they’re not against Domenech, but against the French Football Federation. Domenech read a statement written by the players to the media, which said: “The French Football Federation did not at any time try to protect the group. They took a decision uniquely based on facts reported by the press. As a consequence and to show our opposition to the decision taken by officials of the federation, all the players decided not to take part in today’s training session.” Extraordinary! And giggle-worthy.

We are witnessing the beginning of the end of French soccer for the foreseeable future. I know that Laurent Blanc is taking over after the World Cup (four years too late, in my opinion) but why would he bring in players who are prone to wildcat strikes? Obviously, some players are too good to be excluded, but Anelka is not one of those players. For all his talent, he is eminently replaceable. Blanc is going to have to start over and look at the youth teams and the players who aren’t leading the revolt. And that’s what it is: an open revolt against the federation and the manager. And it makes me giggle.

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Pace is the trick

Rafael Márquez scores v. South Africa (Getty Images)

On the opening day of the 2010 World Cup, it became clear that South Africa was inspired, Mexico was hungover, France is not as good as it should be, and Uruguay may be the monkeywrench.

Mexico should have beaten South Africa but they looked uninspired (which is the nicest way I can put it). I don’t know if Javier Aguirre was taking lessons from Diego Maradona about how to unsettle one’s team, but it certainly appeared that way. He made a series of questionable decisions, beginning with Guillermo Franco up front and ending with Oscar Pérez in goal. Really? Oscar Pérez when you have Guillermo Ochoa, who is, in fact, the best keeper Mexico has right now. Of that, there is no doubt. I think Aguirre over-analyzed and figured if he shook things up, everyone would respond. But they didn’t. Athletes in general, and players on the Mexican national soccer team in particular, love stability. In Mexico, the starting XI should be reasonably obvious and, with a few key subs, can play the entire tournament. There is a reason that Mexico does well in CONCACAF, but not in international tournaments. It’s not entirely dependent on the endemic instability (it also has to do with a chronic attitude problem, in which they think they’re automatically better than everyone else, but that’s another post entirely). It’s time to let the young bucks play. In Ochoa’s case, he’s been the number 1 keeper for 3 and a half years; to not play him now is inexcusable. Put quicker players up front and use the pace provided by Carlos Vela and Giovanni dos Santos (who continues to impress) to create havoc for the opposition’s back four.

I will say that the decision to play quickly, and at a high pace, suits the current Mexico squad (except for Franco, who can’t outrun me). Use Gerardo Torrado as the midfield decision-maker/hard man and let him spring Vela, dos Santos, and anyone else who can streak forward. It’s important that Mexico force the pace in their second and third games because both Uruguay and France want to play slow (as demonstrated by their extraordinarily boring draw). For that, Aguirre needs to make only 1 or 2 changes. And I think he will.

Aguirre is lucky his poor decisions didn’t cost Mexico. Fortunately, France and Uruguay drew, meaning that the group standings look the same today as they did yesterday: everyone is equal, though with only two games left. Mexico needs at least one victory and preferably two. Or else they’ll be heading home early with nothing but pointless tinkering to blame.

PS. Ditch the stupid black jerseys. They look awful.

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World Cup 2010: Group A jerseys

With the World Cup just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at what the teams will be wearing. I’ll start with Group A and move on from there over the next few days.

France home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Let’s start with everyone’s least favorite team, France. Ever the traditionalists, the French are going with blue as their primary color. Red and white thingamajigs on either side of the player’s number serve to break up the monotony. I’m not a fan of random accents on jerseys (as will be demonstrated later) and these are no exception. But at least they’re symmetrical, so good on Adidas for not screwing that up. Overall, it’s a pleasantly banal shirt.

Mexico home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Mexico continues a pattern established in the previous few years where it experiments with its jersey. Okay, Adidas was experimenting, but the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol was a willing co-conspirator. And at least it’s back to normal green. I like the simplicity and the small accents within the shirt’s body but the red armpit stains have to do. I suppose this is an Adidas thing (the random stupid lines, I mean) as they’re featured on a number of Adidas-dressed teams. That said, I like the Mexico shirt and hope they stick with the green because the black away shirt is awful.

South Africa home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

One would think that the hosts would come up with something original for the tournament. But no. The South African Football Federation, along with Adidas (them again!), decided to go with what is basically a Brazil knock-off. Perhaps they’re hoping yellow will bring some Brazilian karma. Perhaps they’re uncreative. Who knows? What I do know is that the shirt is uninspired and was best left on the drawing board. An opportunity lost.

Uruguay home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

This shirt, by Puma, is interesting. I like the subtle sunbursts and the blue color but I don’t like the white stripes on the armpits (though the ones on the sleeves are less offensive). I love the collar as it brings back memories of a simpler time in soccer kits. This is, overall, an interesting mix of modern and retro and it works for me.

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FIFA is that crazy girlfriend you can’t avoid

Sepp Blatter: "I used this one myself. Swear!"

There’s no other explanation for the decision to investigate Thierry Henry’s handball. Or maybe that just makes Sepp Blatter indecisive. Or maybe he’s just insane. Who really knows at this point? The whole Ireland-France situation has devolved into the worst parts of a kindergarten class: everyone whining and then FIFA taking its ball and going home. Of course, the Irish FA’s request to be the 33rd team in the World Cup was absolutely insane. Then again, so was FIFA’s handling of the matter – a one-off playoff would have been an acceptable solution, with international precedent – and now the stupid, misguided, idiotic singling out of Thierry Henry. Why hasn’t the referee been called out? Or, better yet, the referee’s assistants who most definitely should have seen the handball. I know the answer: FIFA is insane. As an organization, it is greedy, bureaucratic, obstinate, controlling, jealous, selfish, imperious, and possibly corrupt. Would you date a girl like that? I think not. Unless you’re a gold-digger. In any event, FIFA – and Sepp Blatter – are clearly insane. The world needs to break up with them ASAP.

This whole thing is frustrating me.

I need a drink.

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Saturday Night Links: anonymous edition

Thierry Henry's handball v. Ireland (AFP/Getty Images)

Ireland has given up its quixotic quest to become the 33rd team in the 2010 World Cup. Well, I’m glad that’s settled. I was getting worried that the Irish FA might embarrass itself.

Arsène Wenger says he’ll spend money in January to replace Robin van Persie, who’s out, apparently, forever. The kicker is that Wenger will only spend “at the right price.” Of course he will. So don’t get your hopes up, Arsenal fans.

Amid speculation that Sergio “Kun” Agüero is off to Chelsea in January (ahead, apparently, of the transfer ban that was supposed to be in effect), even AS.com says ESPN is responsible for that rumor. When AS disavows a rumor, you know it can’t be true.

Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or. Like anyone is surprised by that.

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UPDATE: No replay for France v. Ireland

Because FIFA said so. And that happened even though Thierry Henry said it would be the fairest solution.

Arsène Wenger chimed in, as well, noting that the referee should have asked for help:

“For two reasons; first of all Henry didn’t celebrate at the start, that gives an indication to the referee, but spontaneously 11 Irish players came to see the referee. That doesn’t happen if it’s not something obvious. You have two, three or four but not 11 and that convinced him to go and see the linesman as well and say ‘Listen, I didn’t see what happened, can you help me?'”

That, to me, is what makes a great referee great: the ability to ask for help. A great referee needs to realize that he can’t see everything. After, assistant referees are there for a reason: to help you out. With all that said, there is no way that referee Martin Hansson can be anything but the goat. Too bad FIFA won’t do anything about it.

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Henry’s handball: indicative of morality?

A lot of soccer players – and athletes in general – talk about honor. Usually they mean something like playing to honor a dead, dying, or otherwise important relative or stranger or great player from the past. Announcers push their morality onto the players. The best example in the US is the sanctimonious football and baseball announcer Joe Buck. Rarely does anyone talk about honor on the pitch.

David Halberstom wrote a great book called The Breaks of the Game which basically sums up how athletes feel about cheating, luck, or what have you. It boils down to the idea that everything evens out, that everyone will eventually get the same number of breaks. Thierry Henry implied as much after his handball tied the match with Ireland yesterday. ”It was a handball, but I’m not the ref,” he said on BBC Radio Five Live. ”The ball hit my arm, fell in front of me and I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.” The player admitted the mistake but blamed the ref for not catching it. Them’s the breaks, he says.

Except “breaks” is a terms to describe something flukey. It’s pretty obvious that Henry created his own break there by cradling the ball so it wouldn’t go out of bounds and then passing across the box, which William Gallas slotted home for the tying goal (and the goal that put France through to the World Cup, something it does not deserve even a little bit). If it was accidental, I could accept that. But it clearly wasn’t. It was purposeful. It was intentional. It was a desperate act by a member of a desperate team. Imagine the ignominy if France had not made it to the World Cup!

One could argue that Ireland did it to themselves by not winning in Dublin on Saturday. Sure, that holds some water. But not enough. Ireland played better yesterday and scored a legitimate goal. A penalty shootout should have been their just reward, if not for Henry’s chicanery.

The FAI is, predictably, apoplectic. It wants a replay, which does have some precedent (a 2005 match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain was declared invalid after a referee mistake). FIFA should do the right thing: order a replay. Perhaps France will win 2-0 and erase any doubt. Perhaps Ireland will win 2-0 and overcome the goal given up in Dublin. Who knows? The only thing I know is that the result should not stand. It’s the moral thing to do.

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Holland v. France

I spend a lot of time playing Football Manager. One might call me an addict. My addiction started about 5 years ago with Championship Manager 4 which, unbeknownst to me, was a bad version of the game. Two years ago, I upgraded to Football Manager 2007 and I’ve been playing that ever since. In the fake world of FM, my teams are usually very good. But I can only dream of making my charges play like Marco van Basten’s Dutch National Team in Euro 2008.

After demolishing Italy in their first game, Holland took on France today in Group C’s second matchday. A win would clinch first place in the Group of Death. A loss would be tragic but not devastating. But, despite brief flashes of brilliance, France was never really in this game. Holland controlled the game with its precision passing and fluid shape. That is, they played like the old Dutch Total Football teams. Van Basten’s charges are truly a beautiful thing to watch.

I suppose there’s a certain amount of heresy to comparing anything to Total Football. But I’m going to do it anyway. The way the Dutch team is playing is flat-out gorgeous. The key is that they keep their shape while using precision passing to create an effective counter-attack. Witness their goals today: both van Persie’s and Robben’s goals came on counter-attacks. What makes the system work so well is each player’s wilingness to move into space and do what is necessary to win. A prime example is Ruud van Nistelrooy, who is playing inspired soccer. On van Persie’s goal, he was he catalyst, getting the play started with a beautiful pass to Robben, who later fed van Persie. Another example is Giovani van Bronckhorst, who is all over the field, from attacking back, to left back, to center back. To a man, this team is committed to the cause of winning Euro 2008.

Now, I haven’t seen every game in the tournament. I have been impressed by Spain and Portugal as well as Holland. Right now, my favorites are Spain (the team I’ve been rooting for the entire time) and Holland. There are similarities between the two, the most obvious being that both are famous for choking in big games. I think one of those teams gets the monkey of its back and wins.

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