Welcome back to South Africa and welcome to Bloemfontein, the City of Roses as it is commonly known to those who populate this vast and welcoming land.
It’s Tuesday night and I’m late, late with my copy for the Irish Voice and possibly late for my midnight flight back to Johannesburg. But I don’t care.
The French have just exited the World Cup in the sort of disgrace and disharmony and disappointment that their qualification last November suggested they would deserve when they got to this part of the world. And I’m happy about that.
When they cheated Ireland out of the possibility of a penalty shoot-out with that double Thierry Henry handball last November, the French effectively sealed their premature World Cup exit.
Or so it now seems. Their World Cup finals campaign has been cursed from start to finish, and I’m delighted for them.
Never mind tonight’s mind boggling departure from the tournament with just point from a scoreless draw with Mexico and one goal, from the 2-1 defeat to South Africa tonight, to show for their troubles.
They were supposed to walk into the quarterfinals. They were scheduled to go up against an England team in the last eight that has been equally baffling in South Africa this past week.
The French came with big players. Anelka. Malouda. Gallas. Ribery. Even Henry himself.
And yet Wednesday morning they go home after a campaign that included the dismissal of Anelka for telling his manager to “go screw yourself, dirty son of a whore.”
They’ve witnessed a player’s strike in support of the sacked Anelka when the squad refused to train on Sunday ahead of their must win game against the host nation.
They’ve lost to Mexico without as much as a whiff of a fight in their nostrils.
And they’ve had to stand idly by as their manager branded them imbeciles and stupid and pathetic for going on strike in the first place.
Cursed after the Hand of God goal in Paris last November? You’d better believe it!
As I sit in a vast and cavernous press tent outside the Free State Stadium, so the French journalists around me are talking of catastrophes and disasters after this 2-1 defeat to the home side.
Sadly that still wasn’t enough to see the Bafana Bafana through to the second phase, and that is even more shameful than the French departure and the inevitable mud throwing that will follow in the coming days.
For over a week now the unfancied South African players, players who earn nothing like the millions available to Henry and Co., have done their country proud.
They were never tipped to do great things in this tournament, and all bar their own believed they would indeed become the first host nation not to qualify for the second phase. As they have done now.
But that doesn’t matter because South Africa leave this World Cup with their dignity intact, their respect from the outside world increased and their nation united.
Even the President Jakob Zuma went into their dressingroom on Tuesday evening to tell his players he was proud of them.
It’s doubtful anyone will tell the French they were proud of their pathetic and pitiful World Cup campaign when they fly into Paris -- in economy -- on Thursday.
That their manager Domenech refused to shake hands with his opposite number Parreira afterwards, because the Brazilian had allegedly taken Ireland’s side last November, tells you all you need to know about these French morons.
To sum it up, because I do have a plane to catch and a real World Cup to get back to, I want to leave you with the post match words of Everton and South African midfielder Steven Pienaar.
He summed up the mood inside and outside the South African dressingroom when he said, “It was a good result but we didn’t qualify for the last 16 so it has to be seen as a disappointment.
“We always believed it was possible, even after losing to Uruguay. People can never say that we didn’t give it our best.
“But through football we have brought the whole nation together. We have shown that we are one country, and that’s all we need to say.”
South Africa leave the world Cup stage as a nation united -- France leave it in disarray. After Paris last November, they deserve no more.
The Karma police were out in force in Bloemfontein on Tuesday. Thank God!
World Cup Sidelines
BISHOP: You’ve got to love the now retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose enthusiasm for these World Cup finals remains unabated even after he had to take tea with David Beckham last week.
Not so long ago the great bishop told anyone who had a problem with the noisy Vuvuzelas to put up and shut up.
And just this Tuesday Tutu declared, “We are hosting the greatest World Cup in history and we are doing it in style.”
He also predicted that Bafana Bafana would beat France 3-0 or 4-0 in Bloemfontein, but we’ll forgive him that one. He was good enough to predict a French defeat!
DOGGY: A Ryanair-type stunt by the low cost South African carrier Kulula has backfired after it offered FIFA President Sepp Blatter free travel around the country for the duration of the World Cup.
Sepp took them up on the offer this week -- Sepp Blatter the Boston Terrier that is, who changed his name, via his owner, to take up the free travel offer.
Kulula had previously got in trouble with the real Sepp and FIFA when it appointed itself as the “Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What.” Michael O’Leary would be proud of them.
DUVET: Crime watch -- the Mexicans are in on the act now after three fans were attacked and robbed by a baseball bat wielding thug on a farmhouse in the Northern Province town of Limpopo.
The victims were none too impressed when police told them to go the local township and ask if “anyone knows the attacker.”
So far 28 people have been convicted of robbing World Cup tourists here, including a man who got 20 months in jail for trying to steal a duvet cover from a parked camper van in Cape Town!
REGGAE: Bob Marley’s sons Ziggy, Rohon and Robert are currently embarking on a motorbike trip across South Africa in honor of their father’s African trek to Zimbabwe for a famous freedom concert 30 years ago.
Naturally enough it’s all being done in the name of money, with director David Alexanian of Ewan McGregor’s “Long Way Round” fame behind the camera.
“This country is like watching Brazil play football -- you’re never left disappointed,” said Alexanian with a quite profound summary of any trip to South Africa.
CHEATS: The French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot gave her country’s football prats a dressing down before Tuesday’s match against South Africa and claimed she reduced them to tears.
“The government had to intervene as the reputation of France is at stake in this case,” she said in Bloemfontein.
So where the hell was she last November when the same players cheated their way to the World Cup finals and did the image of France no good at all?
WEDDINGS: Love the Vuvuzela text going around as follows: “This World Cup reminds me of marriage. I should be enjoying it, but there’s a constant droning noise in the background that’s starting to really annoy me!”
BOYCOTT: The North Koreans actually allowed their 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Portugal to be shown live on national television on Monday, but their state controlled media by and large didn’t bother reporting it on Tuesday. I can’t think why.
HORNY: Plans to build a 37 meter long Vuvuzela in Cape Town have been abandoned over fears it could trigger traffic chaos. Never mind the traffic, what about the noise?
WORLD CUP HERO OF THE WEEK
THE South Africans have been such wonderful World Cup hosts to those of us who haven’t been robbed or mugged since the tournament began, so it was an absolute pleasure to witness the Bafana Bafana make such a mockery of France in Bloemfontein on Tuesday. They didn’t make it to the second phase but they give a hell of a go -- and France a hell of a beating. Merci.
WORLD CUP IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
NO prizes for guessing who wins the award this week -- maybe even this year. The idiotic French players went on strike on Sunday in support of striker Nicolas Anelka after he was sent home for telling manager Raymond Domenech to “go screw yourself, dirty son of a whore” at halftime in the Mexico game. Now I’ve no time for Domenech, but he rightly called his own players imbeciles and that was before they’d lost to South Africa. Have the French no shame?