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France unveils blunt speaking as secret weapon
« on: July 07, 2006, 07:16:50 PM »

France unveils blunt speaking as secret weapon

Jon Brodkin in Dortmund
Friday July 7, 2006
The Guardian

The pressure of a World Cup final inhibits some teams but France are unlikely to fall into that category. Not only is their squad heaving with experience but the need to perform under the most intense scrutiny has become a familiar sensation. "For some 15 games we have been living with a knife at our throat," the coach Raymond Domenech reflected yesterday.
A fraught and unimpressive qualifying campaign went down to the final match, every friendly was then pored over amid further stutters and there has been no respite in Germany. Several countries swept into the last 16 with a game to spare but the guillotine was hovering over Domenech and his players before their final group fixture against Togo. The squad's feeling of now-or-never has been amplified by the knowledge that ZinÚdine Zidane and probably Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele will not play for their country after this tournament.

"It is true that for a long time already, it was 'Either we do it together or we perish very fast'," Domenech said. Sunday's meeting with Italy is more likely to test France's legs than minds but the coach is confident on that front. "They may be tired but the final gives you wings," he said. "It is the belief that makes the difference. They have to believe."
It would have been easy for France to stop believing long ago: in the space of five days in March 2005 the team drew qualifiers at home to Switzerland and away to Israel; four months ago they lost a friendly at home to Slovakia; in their final World Cup warm-up they were being held 1-1 by China as the game entered the 90th minute; and at this World Cup they failed to beat the Swiss or South Korea in their first two matches.

Yet just as a comical Wang Yun own-goal set France on their way to a 3-1 victory over the Chinese, so the players have rescued their campaign and reputations here. Patrick Vieira insisted the belief never wavered and revealed that blunt talking within the squad has helped on this remarkable journey.

"We have progressed on the pitch but also off it in terms of the relationships between the players," the former Arsenal midfielder said. "There is a lot of communication. We are not scared of talking to one another, to tell each other the truth. Everyone accepts the truth from everyone else. That is how we managed to go through and that is what has happened. Of course we could have doubted it when results weren't there but mentally we are very strong and that is why we are in the final."

Vieira said communication between the team on the pitch and at half-time had been crucial to the semi-final victory over Portugal. No doubt the issue of retirements will crop up in their conversations before Sunday. Vieira noted that a World Cup triumph would be "a great finish for the older players" and Domenech is happy to hear such talk. "If the players think about this and want to surpass themselves then so much the better," he said. "Everyone will do that little bit more for Zizou, Lilian, Makelele and all those that announced their retirement."

Domenech said the dressing room explosions of joy that greeted knock-out wins against Spain and Brazil were not replicated after the semi-final because the players realise they must now finish the job. Patience and clinical finishing are regarded by France as key tools against Italy, and their solidity against Portugal encourages them. "When you see Lilian defending like that you feel you are indestructible," Vieira said.

France also feel bolstered by the presence of Zidane. "We have got Zidane and Italy don't," said the left-back Eric Abidal. "He will make the difference. We all want to finish on a good note and we have done the work to take him to July 9. He will add the final touch."

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