Players and fans enjoy France's public training

Players and fans enjoy France's public training

Published Jun. 9, 2012 7:38 p.m. ET

This time, there was no strike.

France held its first public training session at the European Championship in a festive atmosphere Saturday - and its first open one at a major tournament since the infamous World Cup strike two years ago in South Africa.

About 400 people - a mixture of curious locals and pockets of noisy French fans - watched in sunny conditions as the players practiced passing and shooting drills on one of several immaculate grass fields at Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk's vast training complex.

France coach Laurent Blanc even joined in briefly when several players formed a circle and flicked the ball around with one-touch passes.


A ball-playing center back when he played for France, Blanc displayed an assured technique and did not look out of place alongside Florent Malouda and Karim Benzema.

France's players seem to naturally warm to Blanc, who has a different approach than former coach Raymond Domenech.

Domenech used to watch his players train from a distance, standing rigidly with his hands behind his back, and never joined in with them the way Blanc does.

Blanc replaced Domenech after the abysmal 2010 World Cup campaign, when the rift between players and fans reached its peak.

France's players shocked a nation by going on strike in protest after striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home.

The move backfired and instead of receiving sympathy for defending their teammate, the players were widely derided by fans, politicians and former players back home. Some, like Patrice Evra and Franck Ribery, were even banned for a few games.

Saturday's training ended with Blanc and his squad forming a line to applaud the fans, some of whom sang ''Allez les Bleus'' as the players walked off.

Blanc has done much to heal the rift, forbidding his players from wearing headphones when they are in contact with the fans and encouraging as much interaction as is reasonably possible when on international duty.

Meanwhile, midfielders Yann M'Vila and Blaise Matuidi appear closer to full fitness.

M'Vila sprained his right ankle eight days ago, and Matuidi is working his way back from a small right hamstring tear. They trained apart and did sprint training, ball work and jogged several laps of the field.

Both are unlikely to play in France's Group D match against England on Monday, but could be ready for Ukraine four days later.

France's training base is near a campsite and a few English fans have pitched tents there, some unfurling flags.