France sweat on player fitness after virus outbreak ahead of World Cup final
"The important thing in preparing for a match like this is to remain calm," says France coach Didier Deschamps.
DOHA: France coach Didier Deschamps was sweating on the fitness of several key players on Saturday (Dec 17) as his team battled a mystery virus on the eve of the World Cup final against Argentina.
With little more than 24 hours to go before the world champions face Lionel Messi and Argentina at Doha's Lusail Stadium on Sunday, France have been left reeling by a viral outbreak that is believed to have affected five players so far.
Central defenders Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate, and winger Kingsley Coman were the latest players to be laid low by the illness, forced to miss a training session on Friday although they were back in action on Saturday.
Earlier, Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano were ruled out of Wednesday's semi-final victory over Morocco.
Players, staff and other sources close to the French squad have spoken of a range of symptoms affecting the team in recent days including fever, stomach pain and headaches.
Both Deschamps and France captain Hugo Lloris said Saturday they had no further medical updates as they appeared at a pre-match press conference just after 11.30am local time.
"I left quite early this morning from the camp - they were all still asleep," Deschamps said. "I haven't had any recent updates.
"We are trying to take as many precautions as possible, to adapt as necessary and get on with it. Obviously, it would be better if this wasn't happening but we are handling it as well as possible with our medical staff."
Lloris, who also said he had not seen his teammates early Saturday, added: "We are never really prepared for this type of thing but we are trying to prepare in the best way possible."
The virus threatens to derail France's bid to become the first team to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil achieved the feat in 1962.
The showdown at the Lusail stadium will be Deschamps' third World Cup final after he won it in 1998 as Les Bleus' captain and then four years ago as their coach.
He oozed calm on Saturday despite the pressure of facing a team looking to give Lionel Messi his maiden World Cup title.
"I have no worries or stress. The important thing in preparing for a match like this is to remain calm," said Deschamps.
"In a World Cup final, there is the match, but also the context which is particular. But I know that the Argentinians, and maybe some French people too, would like to see Messi win the title."
Captain Hugo Lloris said the game was bigger than just Messi, however.
"The event is too important to focus on one player. It's a final between two great nations," he said.
"When you face this kind of player (Messi), you have to pay attention to him, but this game is not just about him."
France have shown they can adapt to any kind of team, which could be a big asset against Argentina, who have tested out several systems during the World Cup.
"You have to be willing to suffer at times. You have to make the most of the good situations, too," said Lloris.
"Tomorrow there will be a game plan to respect. We are still studying this team and preparing for this big game. There are always things we are not prepared for.
"To face that we need a perfect mindset, to be ready to go above and beyond. We know that we are capable of playing with possession and on the counter-attack. We have a lot of fast players offensively. The strength of our team is that we can adapt to any type of scenario."
Asked to compare the 2018 final against Croatia and Sunday's match against Argentina, Lloris refused to look back.
"We want to write our own story. We want to finish it in the best way possible. As long as nothing is done, the hardest part is still to come," he said.
"We have to be ready to surpass ourselves, to make the effort despite the circumstances with the virus, despite the fatigue. We must finish the job".