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France's shame complete as Evra and Domenech head list of culprits

After a stunning weekend of recrimination, mutiny and outrage, France's national team play South Africa on Tuesday and, miraculously, can still qualify for the next round if results fall the right way. They would need a big win against the hosts and for Mexico and Uruguay to avoid a draw.

The only positive note to emerge from this sorry saga, which has left France as "the laughing-stock of the world," according to World Cup-winning coach Aime Jacquet, is that Les Bleus have united for the first time in the last two years and that could just provoke a reaction on the pitch. However, it does not have many supporters back home: in a L'Equipe poll of over 68,000 fans, 81 percent of readers backed the French football federation's decision to exclude Nicolas Anelka from the squad, while 75 per cent would rather France did not beat South Africa.

France 2010 will always be remembered for the Anelka scandal, but the Chelsea forward, who landed in London on Monday morning, has not emerged as one of the main villains: instead, this quartet represent the bad boys of the 2010 World Cup's most astonishing story.

1. Coach Raymond Domenech -- Forget about the astrology, the inappropriate marriage proposal, the fallouts with players, the bizarre change of formation just before the tournament and the lack of a goal scorer. Forget that he came into the tournament as a dead duck with little respect from his players and no idea about his best team. This was Domenech's chance to reassert some control of the group, and he failed dismally once again.

He even wanted to keep Anelka's comments in-house and deal with the player privately, but he was unable to control his bosses at the French federation, who were so outraged by the outburst (although it has been suggested Anelka spoke quietly, under his breath, rather than in full earshot of the dressing-room) that they acted immediately.

But his behavior on Sunday, when he read out the players' statement criticizing his bosses at the federation for Anelka's exclusion -- after the players had humiliated him by refusing to train -- was of a man with nowhere left to turn. Even France's press officer had point-blank refused to read out the statement. "By taking part in that masquerade and reading the players' statement himself, Domenech lost his last opportunity to show some courage," wrote L'Equipe.

2. Patrice Evra -- France captain Evra had to be restrained from striking fitness coach Robert Duverne during training but that was not his lowest point of the weekend.

His first mistake was to blame the press at Saturday's press conference, in which he insisted that the mole in the camp must be weeded out. To turn the story into a witch-hunt and then criticize the federation for Anelka's exclusion added fuel to an already raging fire, while sanctioning the refusal to train in solidarity of their forward turned the team into a national embarrassment. "Evra has confused the function of the captain with the role of the leader of a gang," wrote L'Equipe. "He has neither the dimension, the charisma or the aura to wear the armband."

French pundit and former national team player Christophe Dugarry was amazed that no one in the squad questioned his decisions. "They are stuck in this bubble, how can refusing to train ever be seen as a clever thing to do?" he asked. His former teammate Bixente Lizarazu added, "There's no captain on this plane and there hasn't been one for a while. They've lost the plot."

This was Evra's chance to stake a claim to the captain's armband in the reign under France's next coach, Laurent Blanc, but he has blown it in the most spectacular way.

3. Franck Ribery -- The winger has long insisted he is ready to be the leader of this team, but when Domenech caved in to his demands and played him on the left wing against Uruguay, Ribery flopped: his decision-making, dead-ball delivery, off-the-ball movement and body language were all criticized in the French press.

The reports that he had a fight with teammate Yoann Gourcuff after the Mexico defeat were too much for him, and he burst onto the set of TV program Telefoot during a live Domenech interview on Sunday morning to defend himself.

At one point he had tears in his eyes as he revealed how upset he was with the situation. "This has been my childhood dream but we didn't work as hard as we should have done, and I¹m suffering for that," he said. "But we are going to do everything we can to win the next game."

When it emerged that Ribery knew at that point of the plans to refuse to train later that day, calling into the question the veracity of his last comment, his performance was seen less as heart-felt and more as plain old political scheming.

4. William Gallas -- The Arsenal defender refused to speak to the media after he was overlooked as replacement captain for Henry and upset his teammates with his regular absences from training. As one French reporter put it, "You can see why Samir Nasri has such a problem with him."

His latest offense, though, surprised everyone: after the Mexico loss, TF1 reporter David Astorga asked Gallas for a comment in the mixed zone, and he responded by raising his middle finger at him in defiance. With Sebastien Squillaci in line to replace him against South Africa, that could be his last act as a French international.

Ben Lyttleton has written about French football for various publications. He edited an oral history of the European Cup, Match of My Life: European Cup Finals, which was published in 2006.

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