The night of The Revolution started farcically for France, even before the action on the field began.
As the French team bus pulled into the Letzigrund Stadium, the driver attempted to take a sharp left-hand turn at too great a speed and clanged into an iron gatepost. Reversing backward to try again, the tail of the vehicle slammed into a bumper of a following vehicle, prompting snickers from the watching crowd of onlookers.
For a head coach who is steeped in superstition and astrology, Raymond Domenech must have felt this was an ominous portent ahead of his team's final shot at Euro 2008 salvation. By the end of the night, a 2-0 defeat to Italy and elimination from the European Championships on Tuesday signaled the end of an era for French football. It also spelled out a brutal message.
France – world champions in 1998, kings of Europe two years later and just 24 months removed from a spot in the World Cup final – is just like that bus. No direction. No leadership. And it's stuck in an embarrassing and confusing jam.
Now, the overdue changes that Domenech had neither the strength nor conviction to make, will be forced through. The Revolution will begin.
"This team has a future, it has a real plan," said Domenech, who refused to speculate on his future as France's coach. "There are young players coming through. There is something really interesting to do."
The coach himself will likely be the first casualty, and the search for his successor will include past national team heroes such as Didier Deschamps and Jean Tigana among the candidates.
Domenech lost the support of the very players he stuck behind during these Euros, his stuttering decision-making and unpredictable approach winning him few allies. His failure to adhere to a set plan confused the team and led to combustion from within. The body language of his squad, lethargic and uninterested, was shocking for a tournament of this magnitude.
France's big problem is that it got stuck between generations. The critics pointed to Domenech's inability to give up on the legends of the World Cup-winning squad. For valiant warhorses like Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele, it was one major tournament too many, and their retirements from international play (announced after Tuesday's defeat) will make way for younger legs and fresher minds.
The immediate future belongs to the new order, spearheaded by super talent Franck Ribery and emerging youngsters Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Jeremy Toulalan.
For the men hoping to stretch it out for a couple more years to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, all will depend on the mindset of the new coach. Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira fall into that category and it would not be a huge surprise to see either nudged toward international retirement.
Henry's decline has been the most shocking. Arguably the world's deadliest striker two years ago, Henry is a sorry shadow of his former self, but Domenech didn't see it and stuck by him regardless.
Domenech was in some ways unfortunate. Ribery's Achilles injury and Eric Abidal's red card early on against Italy robbed France of any genuine chance of securing the victory it needed.
But for this French team, in this frame of mind, to have reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 would have been a travesty of justice. It is time for a change, time for The Revolution, and perhaps this failure was the best way to make that apparent.