WORLD CUP ALMANAC: French Dissing
My, our beloved men of analysis are fickle. Last night France qualified for the World Cup final, a credible achievement you will agree, in admittedly scrappy and unconvincing fashion. Cue apoplexy on the RTE panel.
Stopping short of labelling the French a disgrace, the plaudits of Saturday and the defeat of Brazil, and of last Tuesday and the cursory dismissal of the hapless Spaniards were cast away, words rendered as meaningful as Neville Chamberlain's "this piece of paper" speech.
Steady on, I say.
France were poor last night, caution and diffidence infecting their game particularly in the aftermath of Zinedine Zidane's penalty in the 32nd minute. But with the summit of every footballer's ambition beginning to peek over the horizon, and the knowledge that Portugal's powder-puff attacking prowess could very easily be stymied, surely it is in some way understandable that some of the French players succumbed to hesitancy.
The likes of Abidal, Ribery and Malouda did not reproduce their form of the previous two matches, when their youthful vigour provided the perfect foil to the wiles of Zidane and co. These players appeared gripped with nerves in the face of an achievement that they would have little suspected was possible in the early stages of this tournament.
But for experienced men of football like Messrs Giles and Brady (whatever about Dunphy, whose knee jerks at the turning of the tides) not to recognise common semi-final symptoms in France's messy progress is surprising, given that last night's match, rather than Tuesday evening's classic, was much more typical of the genre.
The sense of destiny (what with Zidane's dream and all) which must be gripping the French squad will see last night's poor display quickly forgotten about, and, with several men insitu who now what it is to play in a major final, to dismiss on the basis of one functional semi-final victory the prospects of French is very probably folly.
On a side note, whatever you might think of France's performance, how good it is that this Portuguese team will not have the opportunity to disgrace the World Cup final. Their egregious response to having to chase this game, namely a series of the most outrageous dives in the often inglorious history of World Cup simulation, deserves some sort of retrospective punishment from FIFA.