Two teams in contrasting form will lock horns at the Estadio Corregidora on Thursday, with a berth in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 quarter-finals on offer for the victors. That will surely focus minds in both camps, but while France will head into the tussle low on confidence, their opponents Côte d'Ivoire have built up good momentum.
The competition could hardly have got off to a better start for France, but since dispatching Argentina 3-0 their performance levels have dropped. Held to a 1-1 draw by an impressive Japan team in their next outing, Les Bleuets failed to get back on track against Group B stragglers Jamaica. Another 1-1 scoreline was enough to send them through to the last 16, but Patrick Gonfalone’s charges will need to find a fresh edge and greater consistency if they are to go far in this tournament.
Getting past Côte d'Ivoire is certain to be a challenge in itself as the Elephants have been thrilling the crowds in Mexico. Although they kicked off with a 2-1 loss to Australia, they bounced back with a pair of superb displays, beating Denmark 4-2 before drawing 3-3 with Brazil. “If they continue like that, they’ll lift the trophy,” said Denmark coach Thomas Frank after his team were brushed aside. “I think they should be considered favourites to win the tournament.”
Despite that praise, the African hopefuls have been reliant on star striker Souleymane Coulibaly, who has notched all eight of their goals so far. Even he cannot expect everything to go his way against a defence that has conceded just twice in three games.
8 – The number of goals fired in by Côte d'Ivoire, and Coulibaly, since the tournament began. The prolific forward is just one strike shy of the all-time record set by Florent Sinama-Pongolle, making Thursday’s meeting with Les Bleuets the perfect opportunity to match the Frenchman’s benchmark.
"The main thing is that we booked our place in the round of 16. This team deserves praise because, although they’ve always made hard work of qualifying, they’re still in contention at this stage of the competition,” Patrick Gonfalone, France coach.
"If a team wants to win, every member of it has to pull in the same direction. That’s the message I want to communicate to my players with a view to Thursday’s game. We can’t always depend on Souleymane,” Alain Gouamene, Côte d’Ivoire coach.