France have been far from regulars at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, having graced just three of the competition’s 13 previous editions. They also suffered a 14-year absence from the global stage after 1987, but they returned with a definite bang at Trinidad and Tobago 2001, Jean-Michel Jodar’s side’s earning the French their sole title to date thanks in large part to the efforts of Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama Pongolle, adidas Golden Ball and Silver Ball winners respectively.
Sealing a place at Mexico 2011 proved anything but straightforward for France, who did just enough at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship to secure their spot. They needed to avoid finishing bottom of their four-team group to book a ticket and ultimately came in third, drawing 2-2 with England and 1-1 with hosts Serbia before losing 1-0 to Denmark. Only Serbia’s struggles in front of their own fans offered Les Bleuets a lifeline.
"We have good players but not a good team,” said coach Patrick Gonfalone shortly after his side were eliminated from the European Championship. “If we play like that, it’s just not possible for us to win.” Clearly unimpressed with their displays on Serbian soil, Gonfalone will be looking for vast improvements from his charges in Mexico, where he hopes they “will profit from coming up against the best and realise how much work they still need to do”.
|9||Damien LE TALLEC|