KEIR RADNEDGE in DONETSK: Laurent Blanc believes that peace has been restored to the French camp ahead of their Euro 2012 quarter-final here against world and European champions Spain tomorrow/Saturday.
Fury reigned in the dressing room after the 2-0 defeat by Sweden in Kyiv which tipped Les Bleus off the top of Group D and, as Blanc admitted, he was late in getting to grips with the tension because of the media commitments which delayed his own return to the dressing room.
France lost one day’s preparation through finishing runners-up in the group rather than as winners – England play on Sunday – and he readily admitted that calming tempers and re-focusing his players had cost another day.
A further problem he conceded is that, instead of sending out his team to play their own game, they have had to plan for a game in which they must concede the initiative “because Spain have possession of the ball for 70pc of the game and they don’t give it back.”
Blanc was speaking into a fragile context with some of his own players having suggested, a day earlier, that the spectre of the dressing-room bust-up and training-ground strike at the 2010 World Cup had not been entirely exorcised.
The former France defender, whose contract effectively expires with the final whistle of France’s last game here, struck a positive and patient attitude at the pre-match press conference. No English manager would dealt in such a relaxed and equable with a continuing barrage of questions about dressing-room dissent and morale.
All along he insisted that tempers had cooled and that coaching staff and players were now fully focused on the task of overthrowing the world and European champions.
Blanc said: “It’s great to have your side in good spirits before a game but even better if they’re ready for the game itself. Everyone is available [except suspended Philippe Mexes] which is great because we had a few knocks after the Sweden game, concerning Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri so that’s great.
Back at base camp
“We’ve studied the Spanish team in a lot of detail and had a video session so all the players cold see what to expect. We know there won’t be any surprises so we were disappointed after the Sweden game when there was a lot of anger and people were quite worked up. Coming back to Donetsk and base camp allowed us to calm down and be a bit more at peace.”
Returning to the ‘angry men’ theme, Blanc conceded: “We took a bit of time to calm everyone down. When there’s a lot of tension you need to talk it out which takes time — but that’s the job of the coach. I have to say that, two days after the [Sweden] game, we are completely focused on preparing for Spain.
“We have a lot of difficulties. We know we are rebuilding, we know where we come from and a lot of people still have these demons. Everyone still recalls South Africa so after two or three raised voices they worry this will occur again.
“Angry reactions are not always good to hear so we needed to calm everyone so we could have a meeting the day after with the people involved because, even if there were a few altercations, the paradox is that we qualified for the quarter-finals of the European Championship . . . and we needed to focus quickly on the game against Spain — which is what we have done.”
As for the game itself, Blanc said that he loved watching Spain “as a fan, as a neutral” and that it was crucial France came through the first 20 or 30 minutes unscathed and then have a chance “to play our game.”
The French coach was playing for France, in Brugge at Euro 2000, when France beat Spain for whom Raul missed a penalty. That was one of six competitive matches in which France have always had the upper hand but Blanc took only relative comfort from the memory.
Blanc will rely on Laurent Koscielny playing the game of his life in central defence in place of Mexes and on his team’s ability to focus on the task in hand . . . rather than on statistics and bad memories.
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