Thursday, 17 June 2010

Mexico v France

Mexico 2 - 0 France
Hernandez 64
Blanco (pen) 79

We're still no closer to fathoming what the hell it is with the French. They've got some of the most talented players in the world, Ribery, Malouda, Anelka, but they can't put it together. 15 of their squad are in the World Cup for the first time, and yet there's more than a whiff of the ancien regime about them.

Mexico, on the other hand, are on course for a typical Mexico World Cup. They always qualify, they always get out of the group stage, they always get beaten in the next game, and as things stand with one game left they're odds on to meet Argentina, just like they did in 2006. Service as usual, from the world's most underacknowledged footballing nation.

They hit the post in the first two minutes, Vela breaking through and shooting past the diving Lloris. It was offside, but it was an early warning. Just to balance things up, though, Franco got a yellow for blocking a quick free kick. It may or may not have been the yellow, but he never really got into the game. Talking of players who never got into the game, Anelka wasted the free kick anyway.

The rest of the first half was fairly even. Salcedo was unlucky to see his shot go a foot wide after eighteen minutes, but didn't really make the most of a chance a few minutes later, when Gallas just let him shoot when he should have closed him down. There was a strange lassitude in the French defence, which boded ill. Just before the break Toulalan brought Franco down and got booked

Ribery was always busy, and carries less of the collective disgrace than just about anyone else in the French team, while Dos Santos was just as industrious for Mexico. All in all it was very entertaining, played at a furious pace, without too many heart in mouth moments.

At half time Domenech replaced Anelka with Gignac. You couldn't blame him, but Gignac wasn't any better. The camera lingered on Domenech's face as he stood alone against Mexico, the elements and all of France.

It was Steve Wilson's moment. Domenech, there, surrounded by all his allies. If only he'd stopped there, but no, he was seized by the urge to explain. I mean that he hasn't got any allies, he's stood there alone, that's the point of the joke. It was a shame. From Peter Alliss to Alan Partridge in one moment.

The game carried on. The Mexicans brought on Hernandez for Juarez. Ribery had possibly France's best shot, pushed round the corner by Perez. He's five foot seven, you know. That's quite short for a goalkeeper. Steve Wilson was keen that you should know.

Franco went off, and Mexican icon Blanco came on. The stage was now set.

Hernandez got the first. He beat the offside trap, found himself in empty hectares of French territory, went round Lloris and tapped it in from ten yards. The French just stood there appealing for offside, especially Abidal who hadn't been tight enough to him in the first place.

Domenech took off Govou, and brought on Valbuena. As Mark Bright said, they could have taken off anybody, except possibly Ribery, and Valbuena turned out to be useless anyway.

Gignac had a chance, but he was slow to control the ball. By the time he'd tamed it, it was too late to push in on goal. His long range shot went well over. You could hear the boos now.

They stopped after the Mexican penalty. I think the French fans thought there was no reason for them to do their job if the players weren't going to do theirs. It must have been awful for anyone in the French team who cared. If there's one thing worse than booing, it's fans who don't think you're worth booing.

It was Barrera that earned the penalty, moving past the French and into the box like a gazelle between heffalumps. Evra came across, slid into him without getting the ball, and that was that. Blanco whacked it home with authority, and both sides played out the last ten minutes with as little activity as they could decently get away with.

France must now beat South Africa, or go home. If Mexico and Uruguay draw, they go home anyway. I'll do a summary of all groups after everyone's played twice, but I won't be translating it into French.

It was far and away the best day so far, today. Three entertaining games, lots of goals and a great footballing power imploding. Tomorrow, England.

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