Clouds gather over France camp

KNYSNA, South Africa - With heavy security everywhere, no public training sessions and a leading player refusing to talk to the press, the climate at France's World Cup base has suddenly deteriorated.

Downpours on Wednesday, after days of gorgeous weather, provided a symbol for the brutal change of atmosphere at Knysna, Western Cape, where the former world champions are preparing for their first game, against Uruguay on Friday in Cape Town.

"What we need today is not a controversy but mobilisation, two days before the kickoff of our first match," France team director Jean-Louis Valentin, obviously aware of all the negative headlines in France, told reporters on Wednesday.

Surprisingly cheerful until then, the mood started to shift on Sunday when French sports junior minister Rama Yade criticised the French Football Federation (FFF) for having picked a hotel far too flashy.

Then came French media reports criticising all the security surrounding the team and their secluded fortress, a select resort with breathtaking views of the ocean and the Knysna lagoon.

On top of that William Gallas, maybe upset by reports suggesting he felt the new captain should be himself and not Patrice Evra, decided on Tuesday that he would not talk to the press for the duration of the finals.

"This case has to be settled internally," Valentin said when asked whether Gallas, who was once a doubtful starter for the finals but seems to have fully recovered from a calf injury, would face sanctions.

"William is very focused on his sporting goals," he added. "Don't count on me to blame him."

ARMED GUARDS

The security issue, with armed guards continuously patrolling around the team hotel and blocking access, had nothing to do with the FFF, Valentin said.

"We have made no specific demands in terms of security," he said. "The security around the hotel has been decided by the South African authorities."

Another delicate subject was that the training sessions have been taking place on a pitch inside the boundaries of the team hotel, making it impossible for supporters to attend for security reasons.

The FFF was not to blame for that either, Valentin said.

"That pitch was not originally intended to become an official training pitch," he said. "The pitch we were planning to train on was allocated to Denmark, and we were then asked (by FIFA) to train on the pitch at the hotel."

The players, too, have been blamed by media back home for their distant if not arrogant attitude.

Some pointed out, however, that they were here to do a job.

"We're in the final straight and we have to concentrate on ourselves and what we have to do," midfielder Jeremy Toulalan told reporters.

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