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France downplays rift as Spain awaits at Euros

Source : AP
Last Updated: Thu, Jun 21, 2012 18:30 hrs

Alain Boghossian, an assistant coach for France, insists the matter has been dealt with and his team's full attention is on beating Spain in the European Championship quarterfinals.

Two years after France's strife-torn World Cup, a new rift has emerged in the form of a heated locker-room exchange after Tuesday's 2-0 defeat by Sweden. The team met the next day to ease tensions.

"The fire's been put out. Nothing's broken. Everyone said what they had to say," Boghossian said Thursday, two days before the showdown with the defending champions. "We all had a chat over lunch when things had calmed down. Then we had a little meeting after dinner."

With speculation in overdrive amid reports of disputes among players and staff, Boghossian says the situation is nothing like the one in South Africa in 2010 when Les Bleus went on strike.

"It's not at all comparable," he said. "These things happen, we shouldn't pull the wool over our eyes. Tensions are normal when you lose. If everyone was smiling after that defeat, we (the staff) would have raised our voices even more."

Boghossian thinks France could benefit from getting everything out in the open.

"I think it's a positive thing because at least things are clear between us now," he said. "There were some (verbal) altercations, some exchanges. It's like when you're in a relationship, if you brush things under the carpet then things will explode."

Boghossian was said to have bitterly argued with defender Philippe Mexes over the careless way Mexes had picked up a yellow card, bringing a suspension for Saturday's match.

"Philippe and I had a tactical exchange," Boghossian said. "He got his yellow card high up the pitch, which really didn't serve any purpose. But then again, if everyone had shown the same commitment as him, maybe we wouldn't have put in such a performance."

Other reports suggest coach Laurent Blanc was irate with Hatem Ben Arfa, who had a poor game.

"It wasn't that much of a clash. It was a discussion, an exchange, and the two people concerned explained things to each other," Boghossian said. "They shook hands and there's no problem."

Midfielder Samir Nasri has been the focal point of French media criticism ever since his "Shut your mouth!" gesture to a journalist after scoring in the 1-1 draw against England in their opening Group D match.

"There's always one person who's targeted during a competition. I think Samir's strong enough mentally to accept the criticism," Boghossian said. "He went through that in England with City, and he was strong enough to bounce back. It's up to him to show us that the criticism hasn't got to him, and that he can play to his best level."

In any case, the developments underline how France sorely lacks a leader who could have prevented tensions from escalating in the first place.

The team that reached the 2006 World Cup final included defender Lilian Thuram, midfielder Patrick Vieira, and playmaker Zinedine Zidane. Not only were they great players, they were also vocal and played a crucial role in keeping the squad together.

Boghossian, a former midfielder and a member of the France team that won the 1998 World Cup, has concerns over the leadership.

"No one stands out as a leader on the pitch. The problem won't be solved between now and Saturday," he said. "You can't just click your fingers and say 'let's hope a leader' comes along, or point the finger at someone and designate him as that leader. Either the leader comes naturally, or if there isn't one then you do things another way."

France's captain is soft-spoken goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. While Lloris reassures his defenders with his calm presence, he is not the inspirational leader in the manner of Zidane and Vieira. Boghossian says it's not in Lloris' nature.

"Raising your voice when you feel it's the right thing to do is great, but it's not good to force things," Boghossian said. "It's never good to try and play a role."




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