By Tom Williams (AFP) – Jun 21, 2012
DONETSK, Ukraine — In 2010, it started with a headline in L'Equipe. Two years on, France's leading sports newspaper has lifted the lid on fresh tension in the French squad at Euro 2012.
Thursday's edition of the widely read paper claimed to document what happened in France's changing room after their 2-0 loss to Sweden on Tuesday in Kiev.
Striker Olivier Giroud had already admitted to reporters that there was "a shouting match" and L'Equipe laid things bare.
It began, according to their report, with an exchange between Alou Diarra and Samir Nasri, who was stung by his team-mate's complaint that he had not received enough defensive support in midfield.
Things were then reported to have escalated when Laurent Blanc scolded Hatem Ben Arfa for talking on his mobile phone.
The Newcastle United winger, angry at his substitution in the 59th minute, allegedly blasted Blanc for taking him off instead of other under-performing players and challenged the coach: "Send me home if you're not happy with me!"
Both Blanc and his assistant, Alain Boghossian, have played down the incident, but Florent Malouda admitted the players' comportment had "awoken some old demons".
Malouda is one of 10 survivors from the French squad whose internecine quarrels were broadcast to the world by L'Equipe during the last World Cup.
The most explosive front-page headline in the paper's history -- "Go fuck yourself, you son of a whore!" -- claimed to detail what Nicolas Anelka had told coach Raymond Domenech at half-time of France's 2-0 loss to Mexico.
The revelations sent the camp into meltdown. Anelka was expelled from the squad, captain Patrice Evra promised to root out the "mole" responsible for the leak, and the players went on strike in protest at Anelka's treatment.
This time around, France's players and staff have reacted very differently.
Mindful of the damage liable to be caused by repeated denials, Blanc and his players have openly admitted that tempers flared following the loss to Sweden but have sought to portray the friction as a positive thing.
"There were words spoken but it was the normal exchanges you get in a changing room," said Boghossian.
"It would have been worse if there had been nothing."
Nasri had already created controversy during the group phase, when he celebrated his equaliser in the 1-1 draw with England by shouting "Shut your face!" in the direction of one of his critics from L'Equipe.
Having handed second chances at international level to talented but controversy-prone players such as Nasri, Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema, Blanc knows his changing room contains a tinderbox of combustible egos.
To date their reintegration has been successful, but the loss to Sweden suggested that harmony in the squad remains a delicate thing.
Blanc has called on his players to harness that "electricity" in Saturday's quarter-final meeting with holders Spain.
Sunday's headlines will reveal whether or not he got his wish.
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