JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Before the World Cup started, you could have gotten short odds that the French would go home as champions.
On Sunday one of Europe’s top bookmakers started taking bets the French would go home before their final match.
The bizarre turn of events, which has been brewing for years, bubbled over Sunday at the team’s training camp just east of Cape Town with a series of occurrences that started with a conversation between captain Patrice Evra and coach Raymond Domenech and ended with the humiliated Domenech reading a players’ statement to the media condemning the French federation’s decision to kick forward Nicolas Anelka off the team a day earlier.
In between, fitness coach Robert Duverne stormed out of camp, team director Jean-Louis Valentin angrily announced his resignation and the entire team, after filing off the bus for practice, filed back in again without so much as kicking a ball.
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A World Cup finalist four years ago and a World Cup champion in 1998, France – the No. 9 team in the world rankings – is winless, goalless and virtually hopeless heading into Tuesday’s group finale with South Africa.
“French football is in a catastrophic situation,” said Christian Teinturier, vice president of the French soccer federation.
The roots reach back at least as far as the 2008 European Championship, where France went out in the first round without winning a game. The French didn’t even qualify for last summer’s Confederations Cup – a tournament it has won twice in the last decade – and may not have made it to the World Cup either if not for Thierry Henry’s undetected hand-ball that led to the winning goal in a playoff with Ireland.