Domenech's traumatic tenure ends in shame

BLOEMFONTEIN - Raymond Domenech's reign ended on Tuesday with a once-great French team in ruins and the coach's own reputation tarnished by a World Cup campaign marred by scandals off the pitch and awful displays on it.

France's dismal 2-1 defeat by South Africa, who had never beaten a top side before, further illustrated the controversial coach's failure to make his bunch of gifted but erratic players behave as a team, or even just behave.

The harsh sending off of playmaker Yoann Gourcuff was no excuse, Domenech's men looking once again nervous at the back, short of ideas in midfield and harmless up front.

The stubborn 58-year-old, whose team will go home with no wins and just one goal from three games, will be remembered as a coach who never won anything and turned an awe-inspiring side into a toothless outfit no longer feared by anyone.

Domenech's legacy was at stake at this World Cup after an unimpressive qualifying campaign that culminated with Thierry Henry's infamous handball in a play-off win over Ireland.

The man who will now make way for Laurent Blanc had said in the build-up to the finals he could feel his team had a date with destiny, and so it turned out, but not in the way he had hoped.

EARLY EXIT

France's shortcomings were soon exposed, even before the players started a revolution, and they now find themselves making their second successive early exit from a major tournament after the Euro 2008 flop.

Worse still, the former world and European champions created one of the biggest dramas in World Cup history, boycotting a training session after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech at halftime of a 2-0 defeat by Mexico last week.

Domenech could never reason with his rebellious troops, who have a record for internal squabbling and scandals, and helplessly watched the side collapse before the eyes of the world.

His taste for dull, cautious tactics, despite having many creative players at his disposal, earned him further criticism and so did his decision to keep faith in players who had struggled since the warm-up games, among them Anelka.

Never interested in making himself popular, Domenech kept annoying many here with his trademark mix of undecipherable comments and dry remarks, notably starting a news conference by saying he was hungry and in a hurry.

His biggest problem, however, was that his players never looked in a position to restore their battered pride.

DAUNTING TASK

Not very good at signing autographs or even just smiling at the smattering of supporters who had crossed the world to cheer them on, the France players appeared distant if not arrogant on the pitch and totally lost on it.

Winning back their fans' hearts after bringing shame to their sport and country will be the team's first mission under Blanc, a prominent member of France's 1998 World Cup-winning squad and already a successful coach with Ligue 1 side Girondins Bordeaux.

Blanc will be more popular than Domenech at first, if only for his far more impressive resume, but faces a daunting task in having to rebuild a team no longer feared by anynone.