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The France assistant manager, Guy Stéphan, has insisted that the French squad are not cocooned at their Clairefontaine base despite the French Football Federation deciding not to allow player media appearances this week.
No members of the 23-man squad have appeared before reporters since Monday in the lead-up to Sunday’s last-16 game against the Republic of Ireland, instead fulfilling the Uefa requirement of one media activity a day by presenting the FFF president, Noël Le Graët, and Stéphan.
“I don’t think we are cut off from the world,” Didier Deschamps’ assistant told L’Équipe. “We need to regroup and share special moments together. That doesn’t mean that the players are isolated in the hotel at Clairefontaine – they need to recuperate.”
Les Bleus’ qualification for the knockout stages was confirmed after two matches and they played most recently against Switzerland last Sunday, leaving a week to prepare for the Ireland game. Stéphan is wary of the risk of losing focus.
“We must be careful,” he said. “In the past there have been examples of teams who have had too much time to prepare and have not performed. We have to find a balance between recuperation, preparation and training.
“We need to keep the players focused and speak to them about the opposition, but not too much. How we perform is first and foremost our priority.”
It had looked as though the Euro 2000 winners would face Northern Ireland in the last 16, until Robbie Brady’s 85th-minute winner against Italy for the Republic changed French preparations.
“To be honest, we had started to prepare ourselves for playing against a different opposition because the likelihood was that we would face Northern Ireland. We were watching their games on Monday, Tuesday and a bit of Wednesday.”
But Stéphan said the team were well aware of what Martin O’Neill’s side will have to offer at the Stade de Lyon. “They are a very rigorous team. They use a variation of the 4-4-2 diamond but they can also play flat. They don’t just play in a typical British style, they can pass the ball short even though they do use the long ball.
“Daryl Murphy, with his size, is good in the air to create second balls and Glenn Whelan looks for the ball from the central defenders. Wesley Hoolahan can make the difference with his size and his good left foot. It is a disciplined team who don’t give anything away. They play with a lot of passion and drive, in the image of their manager.”