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France's head coach Didier Deschamps directs his players during the group E World Cup soccer match between Ecuador and France at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. (AP Photo/David Vincent)
French fans falling back in love with team
World Cup » No player strikes this time as Nigeria looms.
First Published Jun 29 2014 11:05 pm • Last Updated Jun 29 2014 11:05 pm

Brasilia, Brazil • A country shamed by mutinous footballers four years ago has fallen back in love with its national team, with a revamped France striking the right note with fans in its free-scoring run to the World Cup’s knockout stage.

"In recent matches, we have noticed a love rekindled with the team," France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said Sunday. "We have done what we needed to do on the pitch to make them happy."

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France vs. Nigeria

Monday, 10 a.m.


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And it’s no surprise the fans are happy.

France has been one of the World Cup’s most entertaining teams, scoring eight goals in group-stage wins against Honduras and Switzerland with some electrifying attacking football.

A qualification-clinching 0-0 draw with Ecuador can be attributed partly to coach Didier Deschamps rotating his lineup, and has done little to dampen expectations of supporters who in 2000 were celebrating their team being concurrent world and European champions.

Even Bacary Sagna, one of two right backs in Deschamps’ squad, took the unusually bold step of saying it would be a "failure" not to win the tournament.

If squad harmony is any indicator, France could genuinely go all the way.

Aside from lifting the World Cup, Deschamps’ priority in Brazil was avoiding a repeat of the player strike that shamed France at the tournament in South Africa in 2010. It’s clear he has succeeded.

"In the French team, the people talk to each other and I think it is their job to keep that momentum going and to keep that atmosphere together," he said. "We have spent a lot of time together and the days are long. We have been together 40 days since the first people arrived at Clairefontaine for the training sessions. But they are still smiling, they are happy to be here.

"As long as we are winning matches, I am sure everything will be fine."

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It couldn’t be more different inside the Nigeria squad that will take on France in the last 16 on Monday. Player discontentment over bonus payments that has swirled around most of the African countries in Brazil has arrived back at the doorstep of the Nigerians.

They say everything has been resolved — it required intervention from Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan to get players back to training — and Deschamps shrugged off Nigeria’s problems. "For them, I don’t think it is a very unusual situation," the France coach said. "I’m not saying it is part of the culture but it happened before this World Cup."

It is hardly the ideal build-up to one of Nigeria’s biggest ever matches but the African side is likely to have one thing going in its favor — the hot and humid conditions for the match at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.

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