June 21, 2012
French appear ready to implode
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
DONETSK, UKRAINE - It's bad enough the French players reportedly are peeved at each other.
Now, thanks to the flapping gums of Samir Nasri, the Spanish could very well be riled up at Les Bleus, too.
Whether they take shots at other teams or just at each other, this team seems ready to implode.
On Thursday, French officlals went into full damage control, parading assistant coach Alain Boghossian to the podium in front of a room stuffed with reporters. Perhaps the feeling was that, since Boghossian was a member of the 1998 world champion French squad, he could reassure an entire nation of panicking fans in France that a few heated exchanges inside the locker room goes on with even the best of teams.
The spin doctoring came 24 hours after manager Laurent Blanc admitted there had been heated words exchanged by his players after France's disappointing 2-0 loss to Sweden Tuesday, a defeat that left them with a quarterfinal date with defending World Cup champ Spain instead of a clash with lower-ranked Italy.
The Spanish have been good in this tournament, but have still been criticized at home for not being in top form. To that end, the cynics may have a point.
If that indeed is the case, why would Nasri wake up the sleeping giants by alleging he would rather play them than Italy, whom he feels is a tougher out?
If Spain wasn't completely up for this showdown with the French, they certainly will be after hearing Nasri yap.
"Spain and Italy are both hard to play against and, in my opinion, the Italians are harder to play against as they line up with five defenders and three defensive midfielders who push up," Nasri explained to reporters. "Spain like to play football, but France has always done well against the Spanish in a major tournament. We might get more room against the Spanish."
True, it wasn't exactly a verbal kick to the jock strap. It wasn't like he was calling the Spanish 90-pound weaklings.
At the same time, you can bet the Spaniards will consider this a sign of disrespect from the team that will line up opposite them at Donbass Arena in Donetsk on Saturday.
Spain, after all, is on the verge of making international soccer history. With the 2008 Euro and 2010 World Cup titles already under their collective belts, they are looking to become the first side to ever capture three consecutive tournaments by winning the Euro 2012 crown.
What makes the entire situation so ironic is that the comments were made by the same Samir Nasri who some reports out of France suggest has been made an outcast inside the French locker room.
Boghossian was quick to deny such allegations, claiming the young French star fits right in.
"The players all talk among themselves," he said. "They play PlayStation together. They eat together. They smile.
"It's up to (Nasri) to show he is not phased by the critics. He is strong enough mentally to cope with the critics."
As for the disagreements between the French players after the Swedish game, Boghossian said it was nowhere near the mess than took place at the 2010 World Cup, when the squad practically mutinied by refusing to leave the team bus for a scheduled practice as a protest against management.
"There were quarrels -- let's say exchanges -- but it's normal in a dressing room," he said. "It would have been worse if something had happened. It's like in a couple -- if you sweep the problems under the rug, at some point, it will explode.
"That (Swedish loss) was a staggering blow," Boghossian added. "There was a lot of frustration that had to be eliminated. They could have done it by punching doors. They chose to talk about it.
"Everyone said what they had to say. (Now) we start from scratch. Nothing is broken. It's quite the opposite. The fire has been put out."
Having said that, Boghossian warned that players who think of personal glory first and the team second can be a recipe for disaster.
"If you want to be a hero, you move away from the group. If you tell yourself the Euro is your chance to shine individually, it can spread within the squad and it can make the whole thing derail.
"If we don't correct this, the hill will be very very steep."
Some would say it already is.