France swap Alpine glacier for beach

SOUSSE, Tunisia - After hiking up a glacier in the Alps and playing Costa Rica in a northern mining town, France have moved to the seaside to continue their unusual World Cup preparations.

The former world and European champions landed in Tunisia looking cheerful and relaxed on Thursday to set up camp at a vacation resort near Sousse.

The players' wives, partners and children were also invited to bask in the sunshine on the hotel's postcard-like sandy beach, surrounded by a handful of mostly German tourists.

"Our partners are here, it's really important for us, but we all realise what we're here for," defender Marc Planus told reporters on Friday. "We're really well looked after, by our wives and by the coach."

Training was also on the agenda with a session on Friday at former African Champions League winners Etoile du Sahel's state-of-the-art facilities.

"The training sessions here will be just as tough," Planus said.

Coach Raymond Domenech came up with a bizarre programme to help his squad bond, a week-long camp in the ski village of Tignes followed by a warm-up game against Costa Rica in Lens, northern France and now Tunisia.

"Tignes was different, it was hard because we focused on individual fitness but it also helped create a real team spirit," Planus said.

"This is pleasant with the beach, a nice restaurant and everything, but we're also here to work."

France, who made a shock early exit from Euro 2008 and have done little to reassure their fans since, play Tunisia on Sunday before flying to the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where they face China in their last game before the June 11-July 11 finals.


The players, who looked miserable off the pitch and lost on it at Euro 2008, insist they are having fun this time.

"There's a really great atmosphere in that group," midfielder Abou Diaby told reporters. "We're all happy to be together. I don't talk much, I'm rather shy, but being with the other guys feels really good."

The World Cup starts on June 11 when France play Uruguay before facing Mexico and hosts South Africa in Group A.

Already being in Africa, albeit on the other side of the continent, gave the players a taste of things to come, Diaby said.

"We're in Africa, we're looking forward to playing a strong Tunisia team in a great atmosphere," he said. "We can really feel a World Cup flavour now."

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