With today’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of South Africa, France’s dismal World Cup run has come to an end. The only reason this makes me sad is because of the insane drama they brought to this year’s edition of the World Cup. Sending home a star striker? Refusing to train the next day? Having the head director of team quit and fly home early? Having the President of the country call the team out publicly? Yeah, that’s drama.
But first let’s start at the beginning. The French team struggled through qualifying, finishing second in UEFA Group 7 to Serbia. Then, they only secured a qualification through Thierry Henry’s double handball during the playoff against the Republic of Ireland.
That prompted me to say back in December that I would be pulling against them in this World Cup. Turns out, they didn’t need my help.
They were placed in a group with three opponents who could not match them in terms of skill or talent. Mexico, Uruguay are both decent teams in their own right and South Africa played well except for the second half against Uruguay, but none of them should have been able to measure up to the 2006 runner’s up.
Instead, they crashed out out of the Cup with a single point and a single goal to their name. Their performance, quite honestly, was hard to watch. They were just awful in every aspect of the game.
So the question I began to ponder on the way home from work this afternoon was this: Are they biggest disappointment in my lifetime at the World Cup? The short answer, I think, is no. My lifetime of World Cups is going to span from 1994 to 2010 because I don’t remember a thing from the 1986 or 1990 Cups.
My first thought was the 1998 and 2006 versions of the US National Team who disappointed me so bad that I had a hard time watching soccer for a year. Alright, that’s not true, but you get the idea. That ’98 side lost Germany 2-0, Yugoslavia 1-0, and (gulp) Iran 2-1. That team finished dead last and I believe the one goal they did score didn’t even hit the back of the net. I’d look it up but the memories are too painful.
The 2006 team attempted to do even worse, however a Christian Zaccardo own goal allowed the team a generous tie against the eventual champions, Italy. The automatically places them ahead of the 98 version, but it was still pretty awful. Then I remembered that the only person who expected anything out of those teams was me so there’s no way they could be the biggest disappointment. (But seriously. Iran? Come on.)
Then I moved on to any Spanish team that ever played in a World Cup since they’re viewed as chronic underachievers. In 1998, La Furia managed to get left out of the knockout stage even though they thrashed Bulgaria 6-1 in their final match. Then after some research, I found they they reeeeally didn’t underachieve so much as they never beat a team who was as good or better than them. That and they lost to South Korea in 2002.
In 1994, trendy pick for the Cup, Colombia, crashed out in the first round and eventually saw one of its most popular players get shot outside of a nightclub. Andreas Escobar scored an own goal that led to a United States victory and was gunned down by mobsters who shouted “goal” for each of the six bullets they shot. That’s pretty disappointing.
Then I considered the teams that didn’t qualify for the tournament. Should they count? England and France in 1994, Portugal in 1998, the Netherlands in 2002, pretty much every strong African squad in 2006…but then I decided that they couldn’t count in my little debate even though they should all be very embarrassed.
Finally I made a decision. Clearly the 2010 version of France’s World Cup squad was the biggest disappointment in terms off-the-field performance. I can’t even begin to explain the depths of shame they should feel for how they acted. All them them: the coach, the players, the French Football Federation…just terrible. But in terms of on the field play, another French squad takes the cake. That’s the 2002 team who competed so awfully in Korea/Japan.
That team was the defending Cup champions and was absolutely loaded with talent: Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet. It was a virtual all-star team. And they didn’t even score a goal. The holders fell 1-0 to virtual unknowns Senegal, tied Uruguay 0-0, and were soundly defeated by Denmark 2-0. Similar to 2010’s team, they were hard to watch. They didn’t mesh in any way, they just didn’t ever hit any sort of stride, and they just fell flat.
Has a defending champion ever performed so poorly? Without looking, I would say no. It’s impossible. I mean, to not even score a goal against some pretty inferior competition?
France, for the second time in three World Cups, you have been the biggest disappointment and put forth the most shameful performance out of any team. Even in the ’06 World Cup when you finished second, you’re more known know Zidane’s headbutt than anything else. You’d better get your act together soon or you’ll risk falling off the world soccer map. I, for one, don’t want to see that happen just yet.