France eliminated from World Cup amid fan mutiny

Team infighting leads French supporters to cheer for South Africa in decisive match

Published June 22, 2010 5:59PM (EDT)

French fans in Paris groaned and booed for their own team Tuesday -- and even cheered for South Africa -- as they watched a critical World Cup match that came after the squad's public infighting left the nation ashamed and aghast.

Several thousand people, some wearing or waving French fans, showed up to watch the match broadcast on a screen across from the Eiffel Tower. But hopes lost ground as South Africa began scoring, and the mood turned against the French team, which lost 2-1 and was eliminated from the tournament, while Uruguay and Mexico advanced from Group A.

The crowd cheered loudly when France's Florent Malouda scored the team's first goal of the tournament. But people had also cheered when France's Yoann Gourcuff was shown a red card, and there were loud applause mixed in with the boos each time South Africa scored.

"Lots of people are for South Africa now," said Angelique Jurquit, 23, a radio journalist. "The French are disgusted with the results of their team, so this (cheering) is a bit to make fun of France now."

"It's funny, France is worthless," said Victor Malamoud, a 17-year-old Parisian. He said he came to "see the match, watch Les Bleus and hope."

Trouble started for Les Bleus when Nicolas Anelka crudely insulted his coach and was expelled from the French squad Saturday. Then the players protested against his expulsion by refusing to train Sunday.

Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot, in South Africa until the end of the match on orders from President Nicolas Sarkozy, said Monday night that she spoke with the team and told them they had "tarnished France." She also said they cried.

Ahead of the crucial match with South Africa, newspapers implored the team to rise to the occasion: "A Bit of Dignity" read the headline on the daily Le Parisien. "Respect Your Supporters" read France Soir.

Even the famous head butt by Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final, which tarnished his image as a youth model, seemed to pale amid the current drama. The captain of the 1998 World Cup champions was as incredulous, and "saddened," as the rest of France.

"They're being spat upon. Maybe they deserve it," Zidane told a news conference Monday in Johannesburg.

A saleswoman at the largest Paris store of major sports chain Decathlon said sales of France team T-shirts had fallen off to a trickle since the drama began. Sales were "continuous" until mid-June with 113 sold between June 11-18, said Christelle Couleuvre. Since Saturday, when the team refused to train, they are selling "almost nothing or very little" -- 19, she said.

Coach Raymond Domenech is a top target of fans who feel betrayed. Facebook pages like "Goodbye Party for Domenech" were popping up. That one had several hundred thousand people so far saying they would attend. Location: "all over France."

By Elaine Ganley

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