Angry French fans cheer -- for South Africa

Paris: Disgusted but no longer surprised by their team`s dismal World Cup performance, many French fans cheered South Africa`s goals as "Les Bleus" were dumped out of the competition.

"We must be the only country in the world pleased to see its team lose," said a 20-year-old student in a bar in central Paris after watching the French squad`s humiliating 2-1 defeat.

That anger was echoed across France as football supporters digested their country`s dramatic fall from the soaring heights of World Cup triumph in 1998 to the dismal depths of 2010.

The team came into the match in turmoil after a bust-up following the expulsion of star striker Nicolas Anelka from the squad for a foul-mouthed outburst at coach Raymond Domenech.

"It`s pathetic, unacceptable, we`ll never forgive them," said Marie-Helene, who was among 5,000 supporters who watched the match on a giant screen at Trocadero square, just across the river from the Eiffel tower.

The crowd at Trocadero stood at the start of the game to sing the Marseillaise national anthem, but quickly the mood of football despair that has reigned in France returned.

Coach Domenech, widely blamed for France`s lengthy fall from grace, was booed every time his face appeared on the giant screen.

Domenech managed to guide France to the 2006 World Cup finals -- where they were beaten by Italy -- but his prickly public persona grates with fans and media alike.

He is roundly scorned on Internet sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion, where video parodies focus on the nasty insult he got from Anelka.

Social networking sites like Facebook carried scores of pages that expressed outrage or scorn for the French squad.

Around 14,000 people joined the "Make `Les Bleus` walk back home from South Africa" group on Facebook.

Politicians were also quick to get the boot in after yesterday`s defeat.

"France has been made to look ridiculous by an irresponsible group," said Eric Ciotti of President Nicolas Sarkozy`s ruling UMP party.

”These players, overpaid, living in a virtual world, have provided the worst possible example to young people for whom they had often been heroes," he said.

That sentiment was shared by supporters in Boulogne in northern France, the home town of the national team`s striker Franck Ribery.

"There`s too much money in football, the players have got big heads. Even Ribery, he disappointed me. I`m really angry," said Bruno, a social worker, as he watched the match in a café in the Chemin Vert district where Ribery grew up.

As the final whistle was blown, another customer in the cafe, who gave her name as Sonia, delivered a bitter verdict.

"I`m disgusted that France scored because they`ll be boasting about that," she said.

The French squad`s defeat Tuesday crowned months of controversy.

They entered the finals with many even questioning whether they deserved to be there after Thierry Henry`s infamous handball against Ireland.

It went from bad to worse in South Africa with the only fireworks for the team coming off the field when Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech during the 2-0 loss to Mexico, causing his teammates to go on strike for a day.


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