With the FIFA World Cup final defeat and Zinédine Zidane's red card still all too fresh in the collective memory, France is waking up after a troubled night.
As he watched Italy lift the trophy at the Olympiastadion in Berlin last night, coach Raymond Domenech could barely mask his fury. "It would be typical French behaviour to see this runners-up place as satisfying," he said. "But I'm not satisfied at all. We deserved to be in their place." A homecoming parade has been planned for the Champs Elysées in Paris today, but following the penalty shoot-out loss, it is hard to imagine there being much of a party. "We did not lose," said a devastated Domenech. "We could not have lost that game."
While David Trezeguet, scorer of the winning goal against Italy in the UEFA EURO 2000™ final, was the only player to miss from the spot, his frustration was shared by all his team-mates as speechless France players wandered dazed around the pitch. Lilian Thuram, Willy Sagnol and Alou Diarra all earned particular praise after sturdy performances, with the latter replacing the injured Patrick Vieira after an hour. "I'm devastated," said Vieira. "It's a huge frustration to have had to abandon my team-mates."
Strength in adversity
Diarra, meanwhile, looked to take strength from adversity. "We lacked a little bit of tactical nous after the first goal [Zidane's seventh-minute penalty], but a squad was born on Sunday night." This same group will face Italy again on 6 September in a UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifier at the Stade de France. Yet as the dust settled across France, where a record 22 million people saw the final on television, there was only one word on the lips of supporters on every bus and in every office: Zidane.
'The blue angel'
The captain was dismissed with ten minutes of extra time remaining for a head butt on Italy's Marco Materazzi. It was a bizarre end to the final chapter of a brilliant career. Newspaper Le Parisien summed up a nation's sentiments with the line: "The blue angel turned into a devil." Under the headline "Eternal regrets" - a common phrase used to head epitaphs - L'Equipe wrote of Zidane: "You were [Muhammad] Ali - the last boxing genius. The greatest. But neither Ali, nor [Jesse] Owens, nor any icon of the stature that you were about to reach broke the most elementary rules of sport in that way."
"We clearly missed Zidane at the end," reflected Domenech, while French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes revealed how the fallen hero was feeling the pain. "This morning, he is the most disappointed of us all," he said. After the final whistle, the French closed ranks, staying in their dressing room for a considerable time and saying barely anything to reporters. "We showed we were the best team on the pitch," said defender William Gallas. "But sometimes in football there are things you cannot manage."
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