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Petulant, pampered Les Bleus leave France red-faced

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Think your favorite team is underperforming?

Fed up with mediocre coaching and exasperated by over-indulged, whiny players, too?

Things could be worse: You could be French.

Les Bleus, as France’s soccer team is known, is 0-1-1, has yet to score a goal, is mired in escalating internecine squabbles and could be bounced out of the World Cup as soon as today, when it plays host South Africa in a Group A finale.

At this point, that would be more welcome in many parts of France than a fanleaf virus epidemic in the California vineyards.

While France fumes, everybody else is snickering at the ongoing soap opera that has made its team a global punchline.

"Everyone in the world is laughing at us," midfielder Franck Ribery, himself no stranger to controversy, told the media.

In France it is a red-faced embarrassment that transcends sport and rankles national sensibilities in ways heretofore unmatched even by the labeling of U. S. sparkling wine as "champagne."

At a time when the government of Nicolas Sarkozy has been asking the nation to look deep into its soul and ponder what it means to be French, its once iconic soccer team is sending an unwanted message of selfishness and arrogance. A stain that some fear mirrors what an expanding segment of their long-mannered society is becoming.

This by a team that won the 1998 World Cup on French soil, was the 2006 runner-up and came into this one ninth-ranked in the world.

It was bad enough that France got into this World Cup at Ireland’s expense on a ball illegally touched by star Thierry Henry’s hand that called into question the team’s sportsmanship. But things have raced downhill, with Les Bleus being a dysfunctional lot since they set foot in Africa.

It didn’t help that in a week when their countrymen back home were being told to tighten belts in a wave of fiscal austerity, Les Bleus were ensconced in a palatial hotel and acting the part of the ingracious and entitled.

Henry, whose jerseys had been the "in" thing in France, has seen his playing time cut and turned sullen. Then, in the wake of a stunning 2-0 loss to Mexico, striker Nicolas Anelka, who played poorly, went on an X-rated tirade about coach Raymond Domenech. Why France chose to play with a much-lampooned lame duck coach was curious in its own right, but it hardly excused Anelka’s rant. A "traitorous" teammate was accused to leaking details of it to the media, resulting in Anelka’s dismissal.

Then, team captain Patrice Evra got into it with the team conditioning coach; the team then boycotted Sunday’s practice, prompting its conditioning coach, in full view of TV cameras, to rip off his credential, give it an Earl Weaver toss and resign on the spot. And the managing director of the French Football Federation has quit.

Yesterday, Domenech termed his team’s actions as "an aberration, an imbecility, a stupidity without name" and suggested some may not want to play today and others might be benched.

Who knew that in the midst of a World Cup, France would have to look to a largely unknown golfer, Gregory Havret, who finished second in the U. S. Open, to find a feel-good, non-toxic sports story this week?

In 1998, when France captured the World Cup, the milestone victory was widely heralded as a triumph of what the nation was all about and testament to its disparate elements and spirit.

These days, they’d just like to get their stay in the World Cup over without any additional embarrassment.

Reach Ferd Lewis at


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