Pressure mounting on France
France needs a convincing win over Uruguay on Friday at the World Cup to stop the mounting criticism of coach Raymond Domenech's beleaguered team from escalating.
Unloved by its demanding fans, criticized by its angry politicians, and lacking both confidence on the field and a clear tactical direction on how to play, France is in disarray with three days to go until the Uruguay game.
Domenech needs to figure out whether to stick to his newly adopted 4-3-3 system, or switch back to a more defensive lineup.
The players have adopted a siege mentality in the hope of proving the doubters wrong. Some, like defender William Gallas, have decided that ignoring the media altogether is now the best approach.
In the wake of former France defender Marcel Desailly's scathing criticism in a newspaper column a couple of days ago, others are now lining up to have their say, including Desailly's former teammate Christian Karembeu.
"Les Bleus have to win against Uruguay to brush away the doubts and to get off to a good start," Karembeu said. "I hope we're in for a pleasant surprise."
Karembeu, a former Real Madrid midfielder who won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later, questions whether Domenech's sudden and unexpected decision to turn France into an attacking team is a wise move.
"There is blatant problem in defense," Karembeu told the website of sports daily L'Equipe on Tuesday. "It's hard to reshuffle a team in one month, to change the system like that."
The growing criticism has not all been about football, either, with sports minister Rama Yade chastising the team for staying in such luxurious lodgings during a time of economic crisis. Rooms at the Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa in Knysna start at 4,630 rand ($595) a night.
The hotel offers scenic views of the Indian Ocean and respite from the wagging tongues of critics and the groans of disgruntled fans, many of whom predict in newspaper polls that Les Bleus will not go beyond the quarterfinals.
"The most important thing is that it doesn't affect the squad. We're aware that we have a lot of things to improve," France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said. "What is said on the outside stays on the outside."
France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac joked that the players no longer pay any attention to the criticism.
"We do have internet access, but we prefer to watch films," he said.
Just like at Euro 2008, a siege mentality is being built within the remote confines of the hotel. The preciously protected World Cup training sessions have so far been behind closed doors - with security officials patrolling the area.
Lloris was the only France player to speak to the media on Tuesday.
Normally two players come every day, but Gallas has decided not to speak during the whole tournament, amid speculation that he is angry because Patrice Evra got the captain's armband, with former leader Thierry Henry now on the bench.
The training sessions are running out ahead of Friday's game in Cape Town, and Domenech faces a difficult decision.
The new 4-3-3 formation offers little defensive cover and even when the team attacks, it clearly lacks balance.
"We've been having a bit of trouble getting the ball down the right, and keeping it (there) a bit longer," France winger Sidney Govou said, adding that the players have yet to click.
"I'm not the same as Franck (Ribery), Florent Malouda isn't the same as Yoann (Gourcuff)," Govou said. "We're attacking more down the left, but we also know how to play football down the right, so it's a case of finding our feet."
Aime Jacquet - France's World Cup winning coach in 1998 - questioned whether Gourcuff should play at all.
"Without doubt, he is good enough physically to play at international level, but mentally it remains to be seen," Jacquet told L'Equipe. "Until the first match is over, there will be tension and the players will withdraw into themselves."