Raymond Domenech was unedifying to the last. As the whistle went on France's dismal World Cup campaign and his own six years in the job, the manager became embroiled in yet ano ther squabble. He saw fit to shun the offer of a handshake from Carlos Alberto Parreira on the basis that South Africa's manager had been critical of the manner in which France had qualified for the finals last year. Thierry Henry's handball might never be forgotten, but Domenech ­evidently bears grudges.

He has sufficient ammunition for a lifetime of them after a torrid two weeks or so, in which he has been a major target for a mutinous squad. His methods and man-management have driven plenty of them to distraction – Nicolas Anelka flew into a rage that triggered one of the biggest crises in French football – and it feels like blessed relief that the Domenech era has now spluttered to a halt.

The recriminations have already started and the squad can look forward, when they get home, to a government investigation into how they could have gone on a one-day strike in sympathy for Anelka, their expelled team-mate. That was the greatest illustration of the turmoil within Domenech's squad, and the one that unleashed the tidal wave of opprobrium upon them.

The players have disgraced themselves with their actions. It might be some time before the supporters lose the hollow feeling in the pits of their stomachs. But as the dust settled here in Bloemfontein, there was merciful recognition of the damage that has been done.

Not from Domenech, who continues to plot an eccentric and unpredictable course through the storm of blame, but from some of the players, who can only hope that the arrival of Laurent Blanc as their manager heralds a positive new dawn.

Patrice Evra, the captain deposed by Domenech yesterday for leading the revolt, said that it was "time to say sorry". He added: "I apologise to the fans. My coach stopped me from saying sorry yesterday. I'll explain things in the week."

Florent Malouda, the Chelsea player who was dropped for the opening match against Uruguay after a row with Domenech and again for this fixture, articulated deep regret and the fact that he and his team-mates could not have foreseen the repercussions of their refusal to train in that fateful session. The verbal kicking that they got from the French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot on Monday night, he said, had been like the "knock-out punch for a boxer".

He added: "The walk-out was a complete disaster. We chose to express ourselves like this but we honestly didn't know it would affect so many people. We are really sorry for the French population, the French fans. That's not what we want to show and this is not what we want people to think about France. I don't know how we will be received at home, but I will accept anything that happens because we deserve it.

"We have failed from a sport's point of view and the extra-sports point of view, in terms of the image that we've shown to the world. The way that they see France right now is a disaster and we, as players, are the first people responsible for that. We have to work hard to restore the image of the French national team in the world."

Domenech's rag-tag team bowed out with a rally late in the second half, but the damage had already been done through Yoann Gourcuff's dismissal in the 25th minute and some comic defending.

They conceded the first goal in sloppy fashion, which served to rev up the passionate crowd still further and there was also, inevitably, a Gallic slice of self-destruction. Gourcuff might claim that he was hard done by, but leading with an arm in an aerial challenge with MacBeth Sibaya was ill-advised, to say the least. It thudded into the side of Sibaya's face and the referee reached for the red card.

South Africa sensed that France were there for the taking after Hugo Lloris missed Siphiwe Tshabalala's corner and Bongani Khumalo, perhaps climbing on Abou Diaby, sparked frenzy in the stands by heading the opener. Parreira's men began to believe in improbable progress when the outstanding Katlego Mphela bundled home the second following more dithering from France and had the striker not hit a post early in the second half – by which time Uruguay were 1-0 up on Mexico – after being threaded through by Tshabalala, Bafana Bafana's story might have had a dramatic sting.

Instead, with Thierry Henry and Malouda on as substitutes, France finally gained a foothold and Franck Ribéry laid on a simple goal for Malouda. The atmosphere fell flat. South Africa became the first host nation to fall short of the knock-out stage. but they departed with heads held high. For France, the memories are rather more grisly.

This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.