In-fighting that marred France’s 2010 World Cup campaign showed signs of returning as players argued after a 2-0 loss to Sweden in the final group game of soccer’s European Championship.
Tempers rose in the locker room inside Kiev’s Olympic Stadium after the June 19 defeat to the already eliminated Swedes. The result meant France faces world and European champion Spain in the quarterfinals on June 23, instead of Italy which it would’ve played had it topped Group D.
“When you’ve lost you’re a lot more hot blooded,” France coach Laurent Blanc told reporters at a news conference in the Chamber of Commerce in Donetsk, Ukraine, yesterday. “It got heated, but we all cooled down after a good shower.”
Blanc became manager after France finished bottom of its group at the World Cup two years ago following two losses and a draw in South Africa. During that tournament, players refused to train for a day in support of striker Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home for insulting coach Raymond Domenech. Blanc demanded that players behave “impeccably” after he took charge.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said the team ambiance was much better at the start of the 16-team European Championship than it was in South Africa.
France outplayed England in a 1-1 tie on June 11 before beating co-host Ukraine 2-0 to lead Group D. England, which defeated Sweden 3-2, beat Ukraine 1-0 to top the pool and set up a meeting with Italy on June 24 for a place in the semifinals.
‘Awoke Some Demons’
Spain topped Group C and is rated the 9-4 second favorite at U.K. bookmaker Ladbrokes to retain the title, while France is 10-1, meaning a $1 bet would return $10 plus the original stake. Record three-time champion Germany is the 21-10 favorite.
Florent Malouda, a member of the 2010 squad and the oldest player on the roster, said he criticized teammates after the defeat to Sweden, which “awoke some demons in me.”
“Sometimes you need to aim a few bursts of gunfire at each other,” the 32-year-old Chelsea midfielder, who played the final 31 minutes against Sweden, told reporters.
He said he refused to speak with the press after the match because he was afraid about what he would say about the manner in which a 23-match unbeaten run had come to a halt.
“In the heat of the moment there was the risk of launching rockets and missiles,” he said. “There are some things to sort out and sometimes you can really hurt someone with a comment.”
Malouda said Blanc stopped a training session on the eve of the game and told the players, “there was nonchalance creeping in.”
“We’re not here to take a stroll in our flip-flops,” Malouda said.
The defeat and subsequent arguments may help players’ motivation for the Spain game, said Blanc, who made 97 international appearances for Les Bleus.
“It can be constructive,” the coach said. “It shows there’s a reaction and a bit of electricity. I hope there will be some against Spain but in the right sense.”