Vive la France? Barely. Raymond Domenech's insipid side are showing few signs of life and Mexico may have inflicted a terminal blow.
Mexico's substitutes destroy France
Vive la France? Barely. Raymond Domenech's insipid side are showing few signs of life and Mexico may have inflicted a terminal blow to their hopes of progress. Even a victory against South Africa on Tuesday may not be enough to secure a place in the last 16. Mexico out-passed, outclassed them and, with goals from Javier Hernandez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, beat them. Mexico had two goals from their substitute strikers. The moribund French attack, in contrast, are yet to find the net in the tournament.
Both World Cup campaign and soap opera, the cast of the French ensemble changed with the introduction of Florent Malouda for Yoann Gourcuff; the Chelsea midfielder was reported to have clashed with Raymond Domenech in training before the draw with Uruguay. Whether or not the warring factions are reconciled, the switch had the benefit of handing Franck Ribery a central role. It gave the Bayern Munich man a prominence he lacked last Friday while Malouda offered greater balance on the left flank.
Compared to France's Friday stalemate, it was endearingly open. Javier Aguirre's side tend to be a guarantee of good football, however, and the Mexican model of slick passing and eager movement is admirable. The question posed is if they possess an end product. They almost supplied an answer in the affirmative twice in the opening exchanges. First Giovani dos Santos drilled a third-minute effort against the French post, though the winger was rightly ruled offside when Carlos Vela found him.
Then Rafael Marquez breached the offside trap with an up-and-under; Vela, with a wonderful opportunity, applied a similar amount of elevation to his shot. The greatest indication of the Mexicans' adventurous spirit came from their left-back. Carlos Salcido had already struck one shot past the post when he burst past Bacary Sagna, exploited William Gallas's hesitation and prodded an attempt that Hugo Lloris blocked with his chest.
Both were involved again when the marauding Salcido crossed, Lloris punched and the ball hit the head of Pablo Barrera, the substitute, and rebounded just wide of the goal. Barrera had replaced the hamstring victim Vela, though Mexico retained a front three. Its central figure, Guillermo Franco, proved profligate against South Africa in the opening game. The striker curled a shot over the French bar though, in mitigation, he had fashioned the chance himself with a sharp turn.
In the opposing attack, Nicolas Anelka had been anonymous. He was replaced by Andre-Pierre Gignac at the interval though a similarly ineffectual Sidney Govou was fortunate to reappear for the second half. Events on the other flank were more noteworthy. With Malouda involved on each occasion, two Mexicans, Efrain Juarez and Hector Moreno, were booked within the space of a couple of minutes. When he wasn't challenged, Malouda's driven shot was palmed over by Oscar Perez. He also had to repel a crisp effort from Ribery.
It marked an interruption in a pattern of Mexican supremacy. Yet the difficulty they have experienced in converting precise possession into goals explained the arrival of striker Hernandez, with Juarez withdrawn. It was an indication of ambition, and it was swiftly rewarded. The Manchester United-bound forward met Marquez's through ball, breaking the French offside trap, and strolled round Lloris to roll the ball into the unguarded net. Then Eric Abidal chopped down the flying Barrera. Blanco, the 37-year-old talisman, converted the penalty. France could be going home in ignominy. * Compiled by Richard Jolly