Cape Town: France failed to rise to the occasion again on Friday when a lacklustre performance in a tepid 0-0 draw with Uruguay handed the initiative to their lesser-ranked World Cup Group A rivals.
After South Africa and Mexico drew 1-1 in the tournament curtain-raiser in Johannesburg, France, runners up four years ago, had the chance to stamp their authority on the group by beating one of the outsiders.
Instead, after an encouraging start, they lost their way completely, barely tested goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and failed even to take advantage of an 81st-minute red card for Uruguay substitute Nicolas Lodeiro.
While it was not quite a repeat of France’s 2002 horror show when, as holders, they lost 1-0 to Senegal en route to a first-round exit, the draw and the performance will still have been greeted with delight by their next opponents, Mexico.
South Africa, whose confidence is soaring after a promising second-half display at Soccer City when they were a 11 minutes from a famous win, will also now view their group finale against the French with new optimism.
France coach Raymond Domenech, however, refused to begin the autopsy that the baying French media demanded.
“We weren’t able to convert our chances and I think we played well as a team,” he said. “We stopped or prevented them from playing, which was important because when they develop a move they can be very quick.
“It is frustrating not to have won the match, perhaps we weren’t calm enough, quite precise enough and exact enough in the final phase and the Uruguayans defended very well.”
The match on a cold Cape Town night was never likely to match the opening game for action and fervour but France, despite pessimism among their fans, looked lively early on.
They fashioned the best chance of the match after seven minutes when Franck Ribery escaped down the left and crossed low only for Sydney Govou to sidefoot wide from six metres out.
Yoann Gourcuff kept Muslera on his toes with a near-post free kick but then the chances dried up.
Uruguay relied on strike duo Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez to open up the French defence on their own, rarely committing midfielders forward to support them, and, though Forlan looked sharp, he tested Hugo Lloris only once with a 20-metre curler.
Nicolas Anelka led a three-man French front line but looked off the pace and was replaced by Thierry Henry after 73 minutes as Domenech looked for inspiration.
Despite the vuvuzela-led promptings of the 64,000 crowd in the magnificent new Green Point stadium, neither side could raise their game.
Lodeiro’s dismissal after a second yellow card for a foul on fullback Bacary Sagna -- 16 minutes after the midfielder joined the fray -- raised the vuvuzela noise level further but France still struggled to get into the South Americans’ area.
“It was as tough as we expected. We’re quite happy with the result but not with our game as we had a completely different idea of how we wanted to play,” said coach Oscar Tabarez, who noted his team struggled to adapt to a perfect playing surface.
“All the teams are on same footing again so the next match against South Africa will be extremely important for us.”