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March 30, 2017

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Festive atmosphere as fans turn up to watch France's 1st training session for the 2014 World Cup

RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil -- Thousands of fans, some wearing Brazil's yellow shirts and others waving French flags, turned up to watch France's first World Cup training session in a festive atmosphere Tuesday.

The training session, made open to the public, was held at Botafogo's Santa Cruz stadium and drew an enthusiastic crowd of some 5,000 spectators.

It was a far cry from the tense, drab sessions held away from the public eye under former coach Raymond Domenech during the European Championship in 2008 and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the players shamed a nation by going on strike.

The atmosphere surrounding the team is far more relaxed under Didier Deschamps' leadership, and the players appear right at home in Ribeirao Preto, in the northeast region of the state of Sao Paulo.

There were some 30 soldiers at the stadium, but they had little to worry about and a dozen of them rested against a wall as they watched the players take part in passing drills before playing a short practice match of 20 minutes each half.

After scoring with a neat strike, midfielder Paul Pogba was serenaded by some fans with chants of "Pogba, Pogba" and, when the session had ended, the France players applauded the crowd warmly as they left the field.

Right back Mathieu Debuchy was the only player not to take part in full training as he nurses a sore leg from Sunday's 8-0 win in a friendly against Jamaica. He did a few laps around the field on his own.

Earlier, some 100 fans had gathered as they waited to catch a glimpse of players arriving to attend a news conference held inside the Pedro II theater, one of the largest opera houses in Brazil.

Although Brazil has won five World Cups compared to one for France, the French have developed a knack for breaking Brazilian hearts in the tournament.

France beat Brazil 3-0 to win the 1998 World Cup final on home soil, with Zinedine Zidane scoring twice, and also knocked out Brazil at the quarterfinal stage of the 1986 and 2006 World Cups.

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