BLOEMFONTEIN - France were 90 minutes away on Tuesday from completing their worst ever performance at a major tournament, or restoring their tarnished reputation and performing a miraculous turnaround.
The 1998 champions, responsible for one of the biggest dramas in World Cup history, need a win with plenty of goals against hosts South Africa in their final Group A match and must hope that Mexico and Uruguay do not draw at the same time.
However, after boycotting a training session in support of Nicolas Anelka, sent home in disgrace for insulting coach Raymond Domenech at half time of a 2-0 defeat by Mexico last week, it remains doubtful whether the France team can regroup.
Some told Domenech they might not want to play a match France must win to save their campaign, and the coach will be forced to experiment.
"Words would not help now, we need action," Domenech said before the uncertain battle at the Free State stadium.
"The players must bring answers on the pitch. How they will be remembered depends on how they will fare against South Africa."
Domenech's own legacy was also at stake, the controversial coach knowing that Tuesday's game could be his last in charge as he will be replaced by Laurent Blanc after the World Cup.
South Africa, too, have plenty to fight for and can count on the wholehearted support of the crowd and an entire nation.
All hope is not lost for France, however.
They have far more individual talent at their disposal than the hosts and can take encouragement from the fact that Mexico and Uruguay will want to avoid a draw to escape the daunting prospect of having to tackle Argentina in the last 16.
French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot, who was dispatched on Monday to address the warring parties and galvanise wobbly troops, said she could feel another French revolt coming, but a positive one this time.
"You have tarnished France's image, I told them (the players)" she said. "For your kids, our children, you may no longer be heroes.
"Give it all you have, fight for it, I told them, and I could see in their eyes that they wanted to do that."comments