The 3-0 scoreline would suggest that it was a walk in the park for Les Bleus, but their fans were actually not as confident in the lead-up to the game. The French had reason to be worried going into the match, as they lacked their opponents’ pedigree and didn’t have a clear-cut goalscorer.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man and Zinedine Zidane stepped up to sink the below-par Brazilians with a first-half brace, after which Emmanuel Petit rubbed salt into the South Americans’ wounds with a strike late in the second half.
It is exactly this type of steely determination the Proteas will require over the next couple of weeks if they are to break their duck. On Saturday they embark on yet another quest for a world trophy when they take on Sri Lanka in their opening Champions Trophy match and by now, most fans have given up on expecting them to bring anything back.
I don’t blame them, they have been burnt too many times before by past failures and like a former colleague of mine once declared, he will never again make an emotional investment in the Proteas ahead of a big tournament. I’m also not in the mood of debating whether or not we should or shouldn’t expect AB de Villiers to return with a trophy for a change.
The debate is already raging over whether the side has the right balance taking into account the current preference for all-rounders. We’ve experienced every single shade of disappointment over the last 25 years and have to face the facts: the Proteas have only won one of 11 semifinals combined of the three major tournaments, the World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the World Twenty20.
In some of those they famously choked and in some they were simply outplayed. There were also two quarterfinal exits and eight failures to reach the knockout rounds. Let’s not beat around the bush. These statistics are overbearing. They are in your face and it’s impossible to hide from them. But, once the Proteas take the field in a semifinal in two weeks’ time, that will mean absolutely nothing.
The scoreboard won’t reflect an ill-timed drive from Jacques Kallis, a wide ball from Allan Donald or Herschelle Gibbs’ dropped catch. What it will show is a clean slate, one crying out for someone to take ownership and paint his own picture on it. Nothing is barring Quinton de Kock from smashing a match-winning ton come semifinal time or for Kagiso Rabada to take 5/32 on the way to an historic triumph in the final.
It’s high time someone showed some balls for a change.