Fighting French fritter away time

France's soccer coach Laurent Blanc (front L) and his players Patrice Evra (front 2nd L), Mathieu...

France's soccer coach Laurent Blanc (front L) and his players Patrice Evra (front 2nd L), Mathieu Valbuena and Florent Malouda (front R) attend a training session at the team's training centre in Kircha near Donetsk. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:47 PM ET

When Sergio Ramos comes out and says Spain will "fight" Saturday, we presume he means against the French.

When Laurent Blanc comes out and says the French will "fight" Saturday, are we to presume he means against each other?

Oh, that's right. Some of France's players already did that earlier this week.

If their house isn't in order yet, it will be a long day for Les Bleus when they take to the pitch at Donbass Arena in Donetsk for a quarterfinal clash against Spain, the defending Euro and World Cup champion.

If ever there was a tale of two teams seemingly going in opposite directions, this is it.

That was never more evident than on Friday, when the teams held separate press conferences that, frankly, said a lot about the state of these two sides.

First up to the podium came French manager Laurent Blanc, who the other day spilled the beans on the heated verbal exchanges between his players in the locker room at Kiev's Olympic Stadium following a disappointing 2-0 loss Tuesday to Sweden.

Blanc understandably was peppered with questions concerning the perceived infighting, a touchy topic back in France given the way the national team disgraced itself at World Cup 2010 when it refused to get off a bus for a practice in protest against management.

"There was a lot of anger," Blanc said. "Things were said to get things off their chests. We needed to calm them down and start concentrating on Spain."

Over the next 20 minutes, Blanc repeated himself 12 times about having to "calm" his players. At least that was QMI Agency's unofficial count.

The most alarming part of the situation came when Blanc admitted the team had lost at least one day of preparation aimed at studying the Spanish because -- here we go again -- the coaching staff required time to "calm" the squad down.

Really?

Does this sound like a team that is ready to upset a Spanish side that is attempting to make history by becoming the first to win three consecutive international tournaments by adding Euro 2012 to its Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 titles?

If you burn away valuable video analysis and game planning in order to allow your hot-tempered players to cool off, it just makes an already enormous task that much more formidable.

Fast forward two hours.

Long after the French had taken the practice field, it was time for the Spanish to hold their press conference. The difference in attitude immediately was apparent.

Indeed, one of the first queries asked of veteran Spanish defender Sergio Ramos concerned his take on the so-called French implosion and how it might effect the match.

"I think if you play this game, team objectives are greater than anything," said the Spanish defender who has 89 career caps to his name. "Thing can happen in a dressing room. But I don't think it will carry over to the field."

Team objectives are greater than anything. There is a lesson to be learned from those words.

Perhaps the most astute comment came from Spain's Vincente Del Bosque. Speaking about why he always appears so calm, cool and collected, the personable manager suggested that people associated with a national team have obligations as role models, especially in the public eye.

"We have to be sportsmen and we have to be respectful," Del Bosque said. "We are representing our country and we have an image to uphold."

To date, the Spanish have done that. The French have not.

That's not to say the French cannot prevail. In fact, France is the most recent side to have eliminated Spain from a major international tournament, sending Ramos' team packing during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Of course, in Ramos' mind, that has absolutely zilch to do with the matchup Saturday.

"Yes, that did happen in Germany," he said. "But now it's another generation of player. We are young. And we will fight to win."

If Blanc has his way, so will the French.

With the Spanish, of course. Not with each other.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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