France coach Laurent Blanc says a dressing room dispute between his players has affected preparations ahead of tomorrow’s quarterfinal in soccer’s European Championship with titleholder Spain.
Tempers rose in the locker room inside Kiev’s Olympic Stadium after a 2-0 defeat to already eliminated Sweden on June 19 meant Blanc’s team was runner-up in Group D behind England. That brought on a match with European and world champion Spain instead of Italy.
Blanc said it took a day for the team to get over the fight, which was widely reported in the French media. Les Bleus are also playing a day earlier than they would have had they topped the group. England meets Italy in Kiev in two days.
“It took some time for this to subside -- it held us back a little bit,” Blanc said at a press conference at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine. “But there are priorities you have to deal with and they are more important than even the technical preparation of the match.”
Blanc said he worries about the effect the row will have on the morale of his team. French newspapers L’Equipe and Le Parisien reported the argument started when midfielder Alou Diarra criticized teammates for leaving him exposed in midfield and continued with Blanc scolding attacker Hatem Ben Arfa for being on his mobile phone after the loss that ended a 23-game unbeaten run.
Ben Arfa reportedly asked Blanc to send him home if he was unhappy. The 25-year-old was the first to be substituted and told Blanc there were other players more worthy of being removed first, according to the media reports.
The argument led to comparisons with France’s meltdown at the 2010 World Cup when players refused to train for a day at their base in South Africa. They ignored pleas from coaches and training staff in order to support striker Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home for insulting former coach Raymond Domenech.
“There are a lot of people who’ve still got demons,” Blanc said, two days after the team’s oldest player Florent Malouda, 32, accused teammates of being unprofessional in their approach to the Sweden game. “Everybody remembers what happened. With two or three raised voices you worry that you’ll relive the difficult times.”
Blanc said he’d have made more than the mandatory three substitutions permitted against the Scandinavians had he been given the opportunity.
France does have the history books in its favor. It enters the game unbeaten against the Spanish in competitive matches, including victory in the final of the 1984 version of the tournament played on home soil.
“It’s a statistic that’s in our favor,” said Blanc, who was flanked by the team’s captain, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. “ We’re going to take it and accept it because there aren’t many that are in our favor at the moment. If it can carry on for another couple of days that would be great.”