France's players are having trouble dealing with the weight of expectation surrounding them and some are not coping well with the criticism they have been getting at the World Cup, midfielder Florent Malouda said yesterday.
France are regularly attacked by their fans, criticised by former players and even lambasted by the country's politicians, and Malouda says some of the players are unable to relax on the field because of the negative publicity they are getting.
"[That is] because the environment we're in is not easy. There's a lot of expectation, I also think some players have trouble with stories coming out," Malouda said. "Even if we're shut away, it can touch the players a bit and it can affect the way they play. I took loads of stick in 2008 and I'm still here."
Malouda acknowledged that France did not play well when they drew 0-0 with Uruguay in their opening match, and says there must be a significant improvement against Mexico tomorrow in Polokwane.
"What we did against Uruguay was the bare minimum and we know we need to do more," Malouda said.
Malouda, who won the Premier League and FA Cup double with Chelsea this season, was heavily criticised for his performances at the European Championship two years ago. He subsequently complained that Domenech's tactics were largely to blame for how badly he played, but the criticism hurt him, nonetheless.
"It affected me and my family in 2008, but when I went on holiday they comforted me and said they wanted to see me in the blue shirt again," Malouda said. "It gave me that desire to come back."
Former France greats Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Just Fontaine are among the biggest critics of Domenech's side, and sports minister Rama Yade was publicly critical of them for staying in an expensive hotel during an economic crisis.
Few French fans back their own team – with hardly any fans making the journey to Cape Town for the Uruguay match – and almost none believe in the hugely unpopular Domenech's leadership.
"You have to put up with it, that's the weight of the national team," Malouda said. "By contrast, when things work out well it's magnificent."
Malouda played down the reports of a growing rift between him and Domenech – who left Malouda out of the team for nearly a whole season after he had criticised Domenech's tactics at Euro 2008.
However, he did confess that there was a minor incident during a tense training session on the eve of the Uruguay match. Malouda says Domenech was unhappy at how he was throwing himself into tackles at training.
"The day before the match I made a couple of fouls in training and he raised his voice, but I never answered back or lacked respect. There was no shouting match," Malouda said.
Malouda was dropped to the bench for that game, despite playing in all the warm-up games.
"He told me it was a tactical choice, and I believe him," Malouda said. "Yes I was surprised, I was expecting to play. But it's not the first time. Honestly, you have to move on quickly, even if I am disappointed." Meanwhile the France defender William Gallas is a minor doubt for their second World Cup Group A game after missing training with a muscular problem.
The Arsenal player, France's best remaining specialist centre-back, sat out yesterday's session and was being assessed before training today ahead of tomorrow's meeting with Mexico.
Gallas was partnered at the back by Barcelona's Eric Abidal, a left-back by nature who can play centrally, in the disappointing 0-0 draw with Uruguay in Cape Town on Friday.
Gallas – who was reportedly angered to be overlooked for the captaincy, which went to Patrice Evra – is thought to have only experienced slight muscle discomfort and was rested in training as a precaution.
Although France have been struggling to find the net the veteran Mexico defender, Rafael Marquez is far from complacent. "We can't put our trust in the fact that it's been a long time since they scored," the 31-year-old said. "They're maybe not in the kind of form that we're used to seeing them in but that can change in an instant," Marquez said yesterday.
"They have quick players, we'll have to be careful," added Marquez, who has 92 caps and scored his 11th international goal against hosts South Africa in the tournament's opening game last Friday.
Former captain Marquez seems more free after relinquishing the responsibilities of guiding the side and is Mexico's figurehead in defence as well as adding an attacking threat. "I don't need the captain's armband to keep playing my game. It doesn't mean anything," he said.