France’s early World Cup exit mourned across nation


PARIS, AP

Wails of disappointment echoed through France on Tuesday after its beloved “Les Bleus” were knocked out of the World Cup and dethroned as world champions with a 2-0 loss to Denmark.

Nearly all of France was transfixed by the team’s last-gasp effort to qualify — it needed to win by least two goals in order to advance beyond the first round of play.

The humiliating loss for France, which won the 1998 World Cup, came even though its superstar midfielder, Zinedine Zidane, returned from a thigh injury to join the team. He had missed the team’s first two World Cup matches.

In front of Paris City Hall, where a giant television screen was set up, tears ran down some fans’ faces painted in red, white and blue — the colors of the French flag.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Paris student Jean-Baptiste Golled, 21, as he watched the game. “In three matches, France did nothing. They were far too confident at the start.”

Compounding the agony was the fact that the team did not score a single goal in its three Group A matches. It lost 1-0 to Senegal and drew 0-0 against Uruguay in its previous contests. “I’m disgusted. They are the defending champions, and for four years they bragged and did nothing,” said architect Alain Goust, 32, as he held a French flag — which he wasn’t waving.

“When they arrive back at the Champs-Elysees, they’re going to have tomatoes thrown at them.”

President Jacques Chirac, in a letter to team captain Marcel Desailly, said he was “profoundly disappointed” with the result, but that France was still behind the team.

“Nothing will make us forget the great adventure that you helped this country live in 1998 and 2000,” Chirac said. France won the European championships in 2000.

Former French captain Laurent Blanc was less forgiving.

“What they showed today was just not good enough,” Blanc said in England, where he plays for Manchester United. “Some (players) should wonder whether they should keep playing for the national team.”

It was a huge contrast with the scene four years ago, when delighted French fans filled subways, cafes and boulevards, chanting: “We are the champions!” and chanting the score by which they defeated Brazil in the final: “one, two, three, zero!” A million people streamed onto the Champs-Elysees on the night of the victory at the Stade de France.

A handful of Danish fans, some draped in their red-and-white national flag, were the only ones celebrating on the famed Parisian thoroughfare after Tuesday’s match.

At the Danish House, a Danish cultural center, fan Mikael Jakobsson celebrated with a beer despite the early-morning hour in Paris. “Nobody suspected the Danes would win 2-0,” said Jakobsson. “I think France came to the World Cup with too much assurance. They were too relaxed,” he said.

In Paris, televisions in storefront windows drew large groups of spectators, and much of France came to a standstill.

Among the more than 1,000 people gathered at City Hall, boos erupted when coach Roger Lemerre, in a live satellite hookup from South Korea, appeared on French television to comment after the match.

“Lemerre made bad choices,” Goust said as many people quickly left the City Hall square after the match. “We don’t recognize the team.”

Speaking on France’s TF1 television, Lemerre said the team “wasn’t up to the task” — but said no one is to blame.

“I don’t have any criticisms to make. It’s the nature of sport — you have to accept it as it is,” he said.