Johannesburg: It was aperitif time at Les Terrasses de Maubeuge on Sunday and the customers were not merry, they were sadly and angrily digesting the latest episode of the soap opera featuring Les Bleus in South Africa.
Alain, Marie, Francois, Sebastien and their friends had been watching Italy`s World Cup match against New Zealand on the giant television screen of their local cafe in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, at the foot of Montmartre hill.
The 1-1 draw should have pleased them because French people generally like New Zealanders, be they All Blacks or All Whites, and because Italy beat France in the final of the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane memorably was sent off for a headbutt.
The text news rolling at the bottom of the screen had ruined their pleasure, however.
They read "Training session stopped after row between Evra and fitness coach" then "France players stop training in support of Nicolas Anelka" and finally "France team director resigns".
"They have reached rock bottom. They are playing badly, they are behaving like a bunch of spoiled brats, what else could they do?" asked Francois, a student who plays soccer every weekend "on pitches without grass" in the Paris suburbs.
"Oh, they could do better. After refusing to train in protest against Anelka`s exclusion they could refuse to play on Tuesday against South Africa unless Anelka is called back," answered his friend Sebastien.
"Or they could score 10 goals, qualify and win the World Cup," he added.
"You are a joker and sometimes you should shut up," snapped Alain. "The World Cup is over. Best thing to do is to send them back home at their own expense or even on foot. Enough is enough and I hope they will be banned from playing for France until the end of their career."
It was difficult to find somebody with a good word to say about Les Bleus.
Marcel, a retired cabinetmaker sitting at the next table, tried to play the part.
"They are good players. Two weeks ago, you were all against (coach) Raymond Domenech but you were singing the praise of (Franck) Ribery, (Thierry) Henry, (Hugo) LLoris, (Florent) Malouda and even Anelka," he said.
"They were under too much pressure and I can understand they felt betrayed by the media after their first game and even more after the L`Equipe`s headline (about Anelka`s insult to Domenech)," he added.
Marcel found little support, at least in this cafe in the evening of a gloomy Sunday.
"Come on, they are all rotten. They treat women like sex toys, they change their wife or their car in the twinkling of an eye," said Marie, a 28-year-old blonde who said she became a soccer fan when France won the 1998 World Cup.
"Now, I`m disappointed, I feel betrayed and not only by the French players but also by the English, Italian and Spanish so-called soccer stars," she added.
"They earn millions and playing for their country is nothing to them. That`s why some little countries like Algeria, New Zealand, Mexico or Switzerland beat them."