The orchestrator-in-chief of France’s U-17 women’s team, Sandie Toletti has lots of things going for her. Charming, intelligent and friendly, she is modest to boot. Playing down her superb individual showing at this year’s UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship, where she inspired Les Bleuettes to the runners-up slot, the Montpellier starlet is keeping a low profile ahead of the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Azerbaijan 2012.
“Taking part in a World Cup is a dream,” said the softly spoken Toletti in conversation with FIFA.com, her gentle voice somewhat at odds with her combative style of play on the pitch. “It’s a huge thing in the career of a young player and I can’t wait to get there. We’re going with our feet firmly on the ground, and it would be good if we could get through the group phase. We’ll find out soon enough.”
Toletti is nothing if not grounded. The scorer of both Montpellier’s goals in their 2-1 defeat of Juvisy in the recent U-19 French Challenge Cup final and of seven goals in all in steering France to that European Championship final, she nevertheless puts team success before individual glory: “The strength of any team lies in the unity of its players, and we’ve got an especially solid and well-knit unit.”
Nor has the captain’s armband, entrusted to her over a year ago, gone to her head: “I can honestly say I’ve got no idea why I was made captain. My job is to motivate the troops and sort out any disputes we might have, though I have to say there are no problems between us. I also have to want to win as well.”
Winning a title is just what the France U-17 team have been unable to do as yet. Three times they have reached the continental final for their age level and three times they come away defeated: 3-0 to Germany in 2008, 1-0 to Spain last year, and again to the Germans this year, this time on penalties after a 1-1 draw in normal time.
“We were tired,” explained the skipper. “We made some stupid mistakes and we paid dearly for them. There’s no shame in coming second, though. We gave it all we had but the Germans were stronger than us.”
Those setbacks should give France all the motivation they need to succeed at Azerbaijan 2012, as they seek to progress beyond the first round of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup for the very first time.
Ready for a reunion
In their one and only appearance in the competition to date, at New Zealand 2008, France at least departed with their heads held high. Starting off with a comfortable 6-2 defeat of Paraguay, they then went down 7-1 to Japan before signing off from the tournament with an honourable 1-1 draw against eventual runners-up USA in their final group game.
As fate would have it, Les Bleuettes will be up against the Americans again in Azerbaijan: “We’re really looking forward to it, but obviously it’s going to be a very tough encounter,” said Toletti.
As well as the Stars and Stripes, France have been drawn against Korea DPR and Gambia in a Group B which looks too close to call.
“The USA and Korea DPR have nothing left to prove in women’s football,” she said, casting her eye over France’s first-round opponents. “They’re leading countries in the sport, though I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about Gambia. But from what we know, we’re in for some difficult matches in this group.”
Watchful with her comments and brilliant on the ball, the France linchpin is sure to make life difficult for her opponents in Azerbaijan. And with the likes of her in their ranks, the modest Bleuettes have every reason to think big for once.