France in disarray as keepers row in team bonding

France's preparations for the World Cup finals have been hampered after a teambonding exercise at their alpine retreat near Tignes ended with the Lyon goalkeeper Grégory Coupet threatening to quit the squad following a blazing row with the manager, Raymond Domenech, in front of the rest of the squad.

Coupet, who was already smarting at Domenech's decision to make the 34-year-old veteran Fabien Barthez his No1 for the tournament in Germany, was furious after the Marseille goalkeeper was allowed to abandon the team's ascent of the Grande Motte glacier on Wednesday after complaining of a sore calf muscle.

At the time Barthez was roped to the defenders Eric Abidal and Lilian Thuram, together with a member of the backroom staff, and Domenech agreed to allow him to descend to the team's hotel alone fearing that the crampons he was wearing might aggravate the injury.

The rest of the squad completed the climb but, having returned to their mountain refuge at 3,000m for lunch, Coupet made his feelings clear, much to the embarrassment of the other members of the squad and their families. The 33-year-old complained that Barthez had previously been training without mentioning his sore left calf and implied that the former Manchester United goalkeeper was receiving special treatment.

The row escalated with Coupet returning to the squad's four-star hotel, packing his bags and leaving the retreat with his wife and children in his Mercedes A-class. He was back some 45 minutes later, having been called on his mobile by the fitness coach Robert Duverne and his club chairman at Lyon, Jean-Michel Aulas. He was eventually persuaded to return to the hotel, though his relationship with Domenech appears to have fractured beyond repair.

The coach was putting a brave face on the furore yesterday. "Grégory Coupet had the blues for a moment. He cracked," he said. "That can happen because, when it comes to a World Cup finals, it's a stressful time for everyone. He drove off but came back again pretty quickly and we're getting on with it. He gave me an explanation which I accepted and, as far as I'm concerned, it's water under the bridge now. He's a great goalkeeper and the incident's behind us. You have to understand that the France team is more important than the interests of any individual. The problem has been sorted."

France would have been unable to replace Coupet had he refused to return because, under Fifa's rules, replacements can only be called up to the 23-man squad due to injury. Coupet's discontent has been simmering since Domenech made it clear that his first choice throughout most of his reign as national coach would not be his No1 at the finals and the two goalkeepers barely exchanged a word during training yesterday.

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