The brilliant broadcaster Danny Baker (who memorably wrote about the goings-on while on tour with PiL for the NME thusly: “given the chance they’d show him more sex than a policeman’s torch”) was part of the BBC’s post-match coverage for France vs. Mexico. His comments make for interesting (and quick) analysis.
Baker actually believes that not only are France going to qualify from Group A but will make the quarter-finals! You might reasonably conclude that Baker is clearly mad — indeed, Alan Shearer asked him on air whether he’d been drinking — but Baker’s opinion is that the (clearly talented) players will get together, sans Raymond Domenech, naturellement, and decide to come together for the sake of their professional pride. What then happens is as follows: les Bleus easily dispatch South Africa while Mexico proceeds to defeat Uruguay (no playing out of a convenient draw here, says Baker). By virtue of goal difference alone, France’s four points will enable them to make it out of the group. Now galvanized, France will still have one more great performance left in their locker before they make a respectable exit in the last eight.
Is this mere hubris or can the above scenario actually take place? It is true that the bad old days of teams intentionally drawing their final group games is a thing of the past but why shouldn’t we expect the host nation to be inspired by its fans and beat France themselves (which then makes it entirely possible for Bafana Bafana to qualify if you follow Baker’s logic).
Personally, I believe more in the following two factors: the French have been so devoid of ideas thus far that them scoring a goal would be an achievement, let alone our entertaining the prospect of them qualifying. And I’m also a slight sucker for World Cup symmetry: in 1998, they won the World Cup, followed by a first round exit in 2002, before making the final in 2006. You see where this is heading (an Air France flight back to Paris). But what is undeniable is that they needed a helping hand to make this World Cup and they certainly need another to get out of the group.