French football is a study of contrasts. Of immense potential, but barren spells. Of prodigious talent amounting to nothing.
As a nation, France's love for football is unquestionable. For them, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. Surprisingly then, the European heavyweights have won just one World Cup and two European Championship titles. Incidentally, at the U-17 level too, the team have won a World Cup, in 2001, and two European titles — 2004 and 2015.
The Les Bleuets (Little Blues) have had an odd history with the tournament. They won their maiden U-17 World Cup title in only their second appearance in 2001. However, their triumph in Trinidad and Tobago came after a 14-year absence from the tournament. To add to that, France have only featured in five of the 16 editions of the prestigious youth tournament.
Incredulously, despite the French team having players of the calibre of Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, and Hatem Ben Arfa, the U-17 team didn't even compete at the 2005 edition while only one out of the 18 players who played in the 2001 edition went on to play in the senior team of France — Florent Sinama-Pongolle.
Just like Germany, French football clubs have invested extensively on the youth set-up. These club set-ups have, in turn, churned out talent like Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Martial, Ousmane Dembele with increasing frequency.
At the 2017 edition of the tournament, the Les Bleuets will have players of the calibre of Yacine Adli, who players for PSG, and Amine Gouiri, who plays for Lyon, who are capable of setting the stage alight with their talent.
The current U-17 France squad is arguably the most talented alongside Germany, Brazil, Spain and England but they almost did not make it after losing 1-3 to Spain in the last-eight of the 2017 U-17 European Championship earlier this year. While the four semi-finalists automatically booked a seat on the plane to India, the best losing quarter-finalists had to play a play-off for sealing berth. France claimed Europe's fifth berth after beating Hungary 1-0, courtesy of Gouiri's strike.
France manager Lionel Rouxel now is eagerly awaiting a new challenge in India.
"We have got a Japanese team (against us). I think Japan will be a tough competitor in the group. We have played a U-16 tournament with them before and we are well aware of the danger. Then there is New Caledonia, who also speak French, and we are looking forward to playing a great game with them and hope for the best," Rouxel told journalists when he was in Mumbai to attend the official draw on Friday.
In order to acclimatise to the conditions in India, Rouxel's young guns could possibly play a couple of friendlies before the main event starts on 6 October.
"I believe Guwahati is the best place to kickstart our U-17 campaign. We have started training already and will play friendlies towards the end of August, we have not decided which teams we will face but the preparations are in full swing," he added.
Gouiri has been on everyone's radar after scoring nine goals in five games in the recently-concluded Euros. The Olympique Lyonnais striker has proved his worth by scoring in every match he has played in — three goals in two games against Hungary, a double against Scotland, a hat-trick against the Faroe Islands, not to forget a sweet left-footed strike against eventual champions Spain in the quarter-finals. Along with Gouiri, another player to watch out for is French captain and Lyon teenager, Maxence Caqueret. Maxence's ability to control the midfield has allowed the marauding French forwards to attack freely. Paris Saint-Germain's Adli, meanwhile, is considered as one of the best attacking prospects as his link-up play with Gouiri is a treat to watch.
With Rouxel being a former striker himself, it is not surprising that the team is plush with attacking riches. However, the team also has a very balanced look about them, with highly technical players who have great potential.
"Our team attacks well and consists of technically-gifted players. I think that's all you need. What else can I ask for?" said Rouxel.
Come October, Rouxel will be hoping his technically-gifted squad can shrug aside the age old tale of contrasts that French football is known for.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 15:33:37 IST