Respect due to those in blue

France’s victory over Ukraine ditched the legacy of South Africa 2010 and gave them a whole new mindset for Brazil 2014.

Main man: Ribery showed he has the ability to take charge in the big games [GALLO/GETTY]
Main man: Ribery showed he has the ability to take charge in the big games [GALLO/GETTY]

Our video camera acted as a powerful attractive force for French supporters leaving the Stade de France on Tuesday night.

Whether it was just to dance in front of the lens, singing to celebrate the improbable 3-0 win over Ukraine that put France into the World Cup, or to articulate the meaning of Mamadou Sakho’s two goals and Karim Benzema’s one, there was a need to be seen and heard after the months and years of having little to shout about.

Pride in the French team has been a hard commodity to come by since the quite astonishing rebellion sparked by Nicolas Anelka in Knysna at South Africa 2010.

It’s also been hard to keep faith with performances on the pitch. The man I bought my L’Équipe newspaper from on Tuesday morning, when I asked him about the match, immediately took a white handkerchief out of his pocket and waved it in a gesture of surrender.

No European team had ever qualified for the World Cup after being 2-0 down in the first leg of a playoff, but France did it on Tuesday. And this was after a display in Kiev that appeared to highlight the fact that they were no longer a force to be reckoned with.

The turnaround in Paris marked a watershed for the French game that L’Équipe described with one word. Respect.

That was the headline on the front page, representing not just what France had done, but how they had done it. They channelled all that anger and hurt pride from the first leg into a fired-up but controlled performance. Three goals and a clean sheet needed, three goals and a clean sheet got.

On top of that, South Africa 2010 is now history. This team is no longer the one that childishly lashed out against Raymond Domenech. This team is the team of November 19, 2013 – the one that started a new cycle in the history of Les Bleus. It’s also one that now doesn’t have to look forward to three years of meaningless friendlies before they host Euro 2016.

That doesn’t mean they’ll win the World Cup. But could they?

On Tuesday morning, 1998 winner Bixente Lizarazu said that France were “capable of beating any team in the world. It’s clear that they can be beaten by many as well.”

True grit

That’s still true. But a nerveless win against Ukraine – when a goal at any point by the visitors would have meant that France needed four – showed that they have grit to go with the talent.

If Franck Ribéry can again live up to the hype that he was very happy to agree with before Kiev, then France can be a dark horse when they fly to Rio.

Ribéry, a contender for the world footballer of the year, completely failed in his desire to “make the difference” for France in the first leg.

In the second, he set up two of the goals and looked like a man who could stamp his authority on a game. That will be needed in Brazil, where France will not be one of the seeded teams.

That word “respect” had resonance elsewhere in Tuesday’s internationals.

As an England fan, the worst thing to wake up to on Wednesday was not that England had lost 1-0 to Germany, but that the team had been booed off the pitch.

This was a team that qualified for the World Cup top of their group. Manager Roy Hodgson is too much of a gentleman to be publicly enraged by such treatment, but he must be exasperated at such demotivating actions towards his players who, quite frankly, are not among the best in the world and probably never will be again.

If they are ever to win a major trophy, they are going to need that little extra x-factor that unconditional support from the fans can bring. Booing them for losing two friendly matches is not going to bring back 1966.

For a contrast, we just have to go back to Paris. While Didier Deschamps and his players celebrated on the pitch, Deschamps’ opposite number, Mykhaylo Fomenko, was preparing to face a press conference.

And what did he get from the Ukrainian journalists? Demands for an explanation at losing a 2-0 advantage? Questions about his future?

No. He got a round of applause.


Paul Rhys is a freelance sports reporter and presenter writing for Al Jazeera from Paris. Follow him on @PaulRhys_Sport or go to

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Source: Al Jazeera

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