x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

France finally courting with success again

When the French football team revolted against Raymond Domenech, their departing coach, and refused to follow his orders at the World Cup this summer, the backlash was immense.

Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement celebrate victory.
Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement celebrate victory.

When the French football team revolted against Raymond Domenech, their departing coach, and refused to follow his orders at the World Cup this summer, the backlash was immense. Players were banned, others were summoned to explain themselves to the country's leader and Jean-Pierre Escalettes, the French Football Federation president, paid the price with his job.

On Saturday, three months since the debacle, on a hard blue tennis court rather than a lush green football pitch, France's sporting spectators - and concerned politicians - had reason to cheer again. And this time the tears shed by the president of the federation involved were those of joy rather than frustration and anger. Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement secured France's place in the Davis Cup final after beating Argentina's Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos to give them an unassailable 3-0 lead in front of a passionate Parisian crowd, which included Roselyne Bachelot, the country's health and sports minister.

It is the French team's first final since 2002 and Llodra and Clement were joined by the rest of the team - Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Giles Simon, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Julien Benneteau - in their celebrations, despite Tsonga and Benneteau having not been involved in the action due to injuries. It was a prime example of the power of unity and it was not lost on a tearful Jean Gachassin, the French tennis federation's president.

"We saw a team fighting for the national team shirt," Gachassin said. "This French squad showed some true team spirit, not like the football team. It's good to see." Llodra added: "We are incredibly lucky to have such a united team. That's a wonderful French team. I wish with all my heart that all French sports behave like that." Photographs taken from inside the French dressing room showed the team and their coach celebrating ecstatically amid splashes and sprays of the country's finest liquid export.

It was a scene far removed from those that involved Patrice Evra, the France football team captain, stubbornly handing Domenech a letter stating he and his teammates would refuse to train. Forget, a former doubles specialist who triumphed in the Davis Cup in 1991 and 1994, said the display of emotion from those involved in the weekend's win showed how much the victory meant to his countrymen. "The emotions are here, the spirit is here, the quality of the players is unbelievable," Forget said. "I am so proud to lead a team like this one. They struggled a bit last year, but to see them on the court celebrating emotionally is very strong."

France will now meet Serbia in the final, to be held in Belgrade on December 3-5. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae