JOHANNESBURG – The second-most popular sport in South Africa these days is not rugby or cricket or even simply keeping an eye open in the happy event that Charlize Theron passes by on a Johannesburg street.
No, the second-most popular sport is second-guessing, followed very closely by howling in outrage.
The more underachieving performances there are by supposedly legitimate World Cup contenders, the higher the volume of anger. For some teams, it has reached vuvuzela levels.
Take France, for instance. No, really, please, take it.
Coach Raymond Domenech’s Les Bleus have been astonishingly mediocre. They were shut out by Uruguay in their first match and shut out by Mexico in their second.
During halftime of the second game, forward Nicolas Anelka and Domenech went toe-to-toe in the locker room over Domenech’s tactics, or lack thereof. Anelka apparently used some crude and colorful language. Domenech used his clout. On Saturday, he bid Anelka adieu and sent him home.
The French media have been scathing, none more so than the sports daily L’Equipe, which said that the players “don’t give a damn” and that the French soccer federation is run by “headless chickens.”
All this came after the Germans, one of whose favorite sports is bashing the French, had taken aim and fired.
“The French are, for the moment, the biggest disappointment of the World Cup,” said former German World Cup-winning player and coach Franz Beckenbauer. “The manner in which they played against Mexico is unworthy of a World Cup.”
And then Germany lost to Serbia.
Elsewhere, Frenchman Arsene Wenger has also turned into a critic, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way.
After watching England’s woeful performance when it was tied by Algeria on Friday night, Wenger, the coach of Arsenal in the English Premier League, said: “I’m surprised England fans booed. … I thought they were asleep.”
The Three Lions, now with two ties and one goal to show for their efforts under $10 million-a-year Italian coach Fabio Capello, were dreary in the extreme. England’s media were unforgiving in the wake of the latest performance in Cape Town.
“Cape Clowns,” said the headline in the tabloid Daily Mirror.
“House of Wincer,” proclaimed the Sun, which accompanied its report with a photograph of England’s two House of Windsor princes, William and Harry, watching the game with bored expressions.
Meanwhile, stuck-in-a-rut superstar Wayne Rooney had to say sorry Saturday for mocking England’s fans the night before.
“Nice to see your own fans booing you,” Rooney had said before adding a more expletive-sprinkled addendum. On Saturday, he apologized “for any offense caused.”
And then there’s European champion Spain, which was criticized by Luis Aragones, the coach who led it to its Euro 2008 title, after it surprisingly lost its opening game, 1-0, to Switzerland.
The Spanish media put it bluntly. “A Nightmare Start,” said El Mundo.
Finally, on a happier note, the French television station Canal+ has come up with the technology to broadcast vuvuzela-free World Cup games.
Amid all the sound and fury, a note of pure joy.