LAURENT Blanc insists there is “no conflict” in the France squad ahead of tonight’s Euro 2012 quarter-final against Spain in Donetsk.
The France coach did admit, though, that the dressing-room row among players which followed Tuesday’s defeat by Sweden had delayed preparations for the meeting with the world and European champions. The former Manchester United defender accepted that calm had to be restored within the group after the initial angry reaction to the setback which cost Les Bleus top spot behind England in Group D.
Blanc said: “There is no conflict. There were words exchanged after the game. There was a reaction. Some players were very angry. That is true. Certain things were said. We acted on those. People are worked up and angry after a defeat and there were raised voices.
“We took a bit of time to calm everyone down and coming back to Donetsk from Kiev to our base camp allowed us to do that and be a bit more at peace. It did delay us in terms of when we could start preparing for the game with Spain but you have priorities that have to be dealt with. But since Wednesday everything has been about working towards the game with Spain.
“Even though we were disappointed on Tuesday, the fact is we have still qualified for the quarter-finals. We haven’t had to pack our bags and go home.”
Blanc, whose side had been unbeaten in 23 games before losing to Sweden, believes he will have no need to motivate his players against Spain. He said: “I don’t think we had the commitment we needed to show in the game with Sweden and, if we have another off day like that, the outcome will be worse. But I should not have to motivate my players for this game. If they are not motivated to play Spain, they do not understand what it is all about.”
Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny is poised to replace the suspended Philippe Mexes, but otherwise Blanc has a full squad to choose from with Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery shaking off knocks suffered against the Swedes.
Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque, meanwhile, maintains it would be “bad” if he did not have any doubts over just what side to pick.
Del Bosque accepts that the strength of his squad will mean there is always debate over who should start. The world champions were hardly convincing as they eked out a 1-0 victory over Croatia to win Group C with seven points from their three games, having opened with a draw against Italy.
The former Real Madrid boss, who again played without a natural striker once Fernando Torres had been withdrawn with half an hour remaining, indicated no firm decision had been made on how to line up against Les Bleus.
“We are modest, but still optimistic,” he said. “France are difficult opponents and also we have some doubts about the starting line-up, but that is a healthy thing. We are not absolutely right, and we will just try our best.”
Del Bosque continued: “I haven’t decided on my team yet. We have great players who can play up front. I have always had 23 great players who are important for their clubs, and I can’t use all of them. It would be bad not to have any selection doubts. We have stable form and a stable team, and alternatives for every position.”
Spain have never beaten France in a competitive fixture, and Del Bosque is not taking anything for granted. “France have players who can take the initiative and I do not see them really defending all the time and waiting for us to do something,” he said. “The French coach is a good coach with good players at his disposal, so the match they lost with Sweden does not really tell us much. If we have a good moment tonight, we can beat them.”
France were the last side to eliminate Spain from a major tournament, knocking them out of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Del Bosque explained why that should make no difference: “Everyone thinks we are favourites because we won the Euros four years ago and the World Cup two years ago, but there is evidence that France are better in competitive matches. But we have to think about the present and not the past. We all have to see tonight if we can change history.”