France Leads Bizarre Run of World Cup Soccer
As the phrase goes in college basketball (and I'd argue applies to any tournament format), "the fun hasn't started until the upsets start happening."
Numerous surprising results through group play thusfar have a number of experts shaking their heads and a number of unexpected favorites fearing for their World Cup lives - while some upstarts may take their place.
First on the hit list is obviously the French. The rift started when, reportedly, during halftime of France's 2-0 loss to Mexico, coach Raymond Domenech criticized forward Nicolas Anelka's performance, to which Anelka supposedly said "go f--- yourself, dirty son of a b----."Anelka was subsequently sent home from the team.
The next day, Domenech told the media that Anelka could have saved himself such a fate if he simply had agreed to apologize to the coach for his behavior. Furthermore, reports began to surface that Zinedine Zidane, the French football great, had been the motivator behind a group of French players who had asked Domenech to change their playing formations just prior to their first match, which had the coach in no mood for dissent to start with (ZIdane subsequently denied this, of course).
Now, the French president himself, Nicolas Sarkozy, has asked his sports minister to stay extra in the country so that she can meet with Domenech, the team captain, and the French Football Federation chairman to get to the bottom of things. This came one day after an argument between the strength coach and captain Patrice Evra escalated into the players boycotting practice. That announcement was followed immediately by the team's director resigning over the whole spat.
In spite of Domenech pointing out (and rightly so) that the removal of Anelka for his behavior was justified, it's truly unfortunate. France had already slipped from "a team that needed to find the motivation to win the World Cup" to "a team that never quite put it all together." Now, unfortunately, that slide will wind up being remembered as "that team who had an absolute circus of a World Cup, and oh they also played terribly."
Other points of note: The six African nations are now 1-7-4 overall; this includes Nigeria, who could still easily advance despite zero points thus far...France is not the only powerhouse with problems; England must win to advance, Germany and Italy cannot afford to lose, and the Ivory Coast is near hopeless...on the other end of the spectrum, Chile can win Group H with a draw against Spain; the New Zealand squad that was supposed to be happy to even score can advance with a win, as can Denmark; the Aussie squad that was dominated 4-0 by Germany can even advance still with a win.