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France adopt siege mentality

KNYSNA, South Africa, June 10 – William Gallas refusing to speak to the media, training behind closed doors, security tighter than Fort Knox – France are a little rattled ahead of Friday's World Cup opener against Uruguay.Since their arrival at their heavily criticised five-star luxury hideout in Knysna on Saturday the 1998 world champions and 2006 beaten finalists have conducted all but the first 15 minutes of their training sessions in private.

One irate journalist accused French team director Jean-Louis Valentin who braved a media onslaught here Wednesday that the situation was "becoming worse and worse".

When Valentin began to defend the decision to open the first quarter of an hour to the media another journalist cut him off saying: "But what’s the point of (letting us watch) the first 15 minutes?"

The team official replied: "I take note of your discontent and I will pass it on."

Valentin then turned to the Gallas affair – on Tuesday the Arsenal star made it clear that he would not be talking to the press during this World Cup.

"He is extremely focussed on his objective, the World Cup," explained Valentin.

"Don’t count on me to stir things up."

He then tackled the accusation that the French camp was adopting a siege mentality after shuttle buses ferrying the media to watch training sessions were subjected to numerous security checkpoints.

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"With regards to the security I read that the French team were living in a siege mentality, that’s absolutely not the case."

He laid the blame for the tight security on South African authorities following FIFA guidelines.

France manager Raymond Domenech meanwhile reacted to criticism of the team’s luxury hotel by sports minister Rama Yade, who caused a stir at the weekend when she said the team should have shown some "decency" during hard economic times by not choosing a five-star resort to stay in while in South Africa.

Domenech, who is stepping down after the World Cup, said: "The training pitch is in an idyllic situation, these are exceptional conditions to prepare.

"This brings home to the players, if they still need it, the importance and impact of this World Cup and of what is expected of them."

"What I want is to remove any excuse and to say to the players – ‘it’s how you perform that’s going to make the difference’."

"This is not the time for argument," added Valentin.

"This is the time to get behind the team, we have the support of every authority back home."

Among those getting behind Les Bleus ahead of Saturday’s clash with Uruguay was France President Nicolas Sarkozy who disclosed on his Facebook page: "I’ve just had a long conversation with the France manager Raymond Domenech to inform him of my support to the France football team at the World Cup.

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"I told him that the whole country and every French person would be behind our players during the competition. Allez les Bleus!"

After a 1-0 loss to China in a warm-up match last week, which followed a 2-1 win over Costa Rica and a 1-1 draw with Tunisia, France kick-off their campaign at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town in distinctly underwhelming form.

"The pressure is mounting, but it’s positive pressure, we have to impose from the opening match, it’s for us to make our imprint on it," said French international Bakary Sagna.

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