Throughout the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, champions France showed not just confidence, strength and elegance, but also a remarkable level of consistency.
By beating Korea DPR 7-6 on penalties after a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Final, France again demonstrated those key qualities. However, Lady Luck played a part as well.
“It’s just magical; we’re struggling to come to terms with what we’ve achieved, but that doesn’t matter too much, as it’ll sink in later!” exclaimed France captain Sandie Toletti, grasping the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup trophy proudly.
“I think we deserved it, even if we definitely rode our luck a little bit towards the end. But you make your own luck, as they say,” she added, giving smiling team-mate Romane Bruneau – winner of the adidas Golden Glove award – a victorious high-five.
Recovery from disappointment
The smiles are in stark contrast to the tears that flowed after the final of the recent UEFA European Women’s U-17 Championship, a match that Les Bleuettes lost to Germany, also via a penalty shoot-out.
“We didn’t mention it, and quite honestly, it didn’t cross our minds,” said gifted midfielder Ghoutia Karchouni, who had the misfortune of missing a spot-kick in the showdown with the Germans. “We just focused on keeping calm. All we had to do was pick a side and stick with it,” added Toletti.
Put in those terms, it seems a simple task. But in a packed Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku, at the end of the Final of such a prestigious, global event, a certain amount of confidence was certainly required to volunteer to take one of the dreaded kicks.
“The football gods were with us today. Our opponents hit the bar at one point, and there were quite a few other dangerous moments, but the girls never panicked once. Rather than luck, I think it was more their exceptional mental strength that saw them through,” said an emotional Guy Ferrier, coach of the winning side.
“Maybe they also have a certain carefree attitude, but it really comes down to a mix of their mindset and their talent,” he continued.
Those two attributes were typified by the winner of the adidas Golden Ball, France’s Griedge Mbock Bathy. Having recovered from an injury just a few days prior to the start of Azerbaijan 2012, the defender of Cameroonian descent fought and trained hard to be ready. In the end, her consistently classy displays became a highlight of the tournament, which she capped off with a tremendous showing in the Final versus Korea DPR.
“She deserves more than a Golden Ball. She’s an amazing player; quite outstanding,” said Aissatou Tounkara, her partner in central defence.
“I don’t really know if I deserve the award, but there’s no doubt I went through a tough time to get it," said Mbock Bathy excitedly.
“I was hurt before the competition, and I struggled to get back to full fitness. And so there’s a happy ending to my story. I’m quite touched, actually, because the trophy has been given to a defender for the first time ever. And by Michel Platini, too!” she added.
As well as being an adept footballer, the Guingamp player is also due to sit her economics and social sciences exams at the end of the year. But for the moment, the idea of using those subjects in a future career does not appeal to her as much as football. “I could, but maybe I’ll just keep playing,” she said, laughing.
“No, I’ve no intention of retiring,” said 16-year-old Bruneau between giggles. Recipient of the Golden Glove award, the La Roche-sur-Yon goalkeeper was also instrumental in her country’s success.
Beaten just twice during the tournament, both times by the North Koreans, she saved two penalties in the shoot-out and stepped up to score from the spot herself.
“I thought it was a joke at first – I couldn’t believe it. I would never have thought that I’d have to take one, but that’s how it goes,” she said modestly.
Thanks to large helpings of resilience and perseverance, as well as a little assistance from Lady Luck, the French now find themselves on top of the world.