Three quick thoughts about South Africa's 2-1 win over France in Group A on Tuesday:
1. Bravo, South Africa. The hosts faced incredibly long odds (they needed to win and hope for a non-draw in the Mexico-Uruguay game while making up a five-goal difference) but that didn't stop them from taking the game like a World Cup final. Every paper implored them to finish strong to salvage a measure of pride. In its lead editorial, Cape Times opined, "This afternoon, therefore, provides the team with an opportunity to, at least, regain its own pride. In doing so, it can again ignite the flickering flame of its supporters. The chances of it getting through to the next round -- even against a France team in disarray -- seem remote, but it would seem a tonic for all South Africans were they able to walk away from the game with heads held high." They did a lot more than that. Bafana Bafana gave France such a shoeing that for a few minutes it looked like they might actually go through. I watched it in Guguletu, a township outside Cape Town, which might have been the greatest TV-viewing experience of my life. The place was pandemonium. I won't come down from the high for a long, long time.
2. And then there's France. The most amazing thing in the wake of l'affaire Anelka is that the French players were more interested in finding out who leaked the news that Nicolas Anelka called his coach, Raymond Domenech, a "dirty son of a whore" than remedying the situation that allowed such a ridiculous incident to occur. (Call me old-fashioned -- you call your boss a dirty son of a whore and you're probably looking at, at best, an unpaid vacation.) Then the players petulantly decided not to practice when Anelka was sent home, and Domenech had no choice but to overhaul his lineup, making six changes from the side's loss to Mexico. Like South Africa, they had an outside chance at qualifying. "To save the day, they will have to play their hearts out," Domenech said. It was a tall order for a team that proved this month to be largely heartless.
3. Just when you thought Domenech was the good guy in all this ... His mom gave a spirited response to Anelka and he sort of took the high road, so Domenech looked like he was going to come out of this with some credibility intact. Then he refuses to shake hands with Carlos Alberto Parreira after the game. It's somehow telling -- France is a mess right now. The older generation is done; the new kids are led by Franck Ribery, whose greatest contribution to his side during the World Cup was to not become embroiled in any further scandal. Les Bleus finished bottom of Group A and will have a hard time regaining respect.