France’s best finish in their three previous appearances at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup was their fourth place at Chile 2008, a record that the latest crop of Bleuettes are intent on improving at Germany 2010.
The man charged with the task of ensuring they do that is coach Jean-Michel Degrange, who believes that his side can build on the recent upturn in the fortunes of France’s female national teams.
“My predecessor [Stephane Pilard] took his side all the way to the semi-finals and our aim is to match that achievement at the very least,” he tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “The good results we’ve been getting at international level are a reflection of the hard work people are putting in at club level and the desire of the French FA to see our teams make an impact on both the European and international stage.”
If the French are to make further progress this July, they will need to improve their record against tournament hosts Germany, who have proved a stumbling block for them in recent times. Beaten into third place at Chile 2008 by the Germans, the French lost again to their neighbours in the group phase at the 2009 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, although they still managed to top the section. As fate would have it the two have been drawn together again in the world finals, where they will fight it out in Group A along with Costa Rica and Colombia.
Perhaps influenced by that recent record, Degrange is tipping the host nation to top the group. “I think Germany are pretty much favourites,” he says. “I'd say they're a little bit ahead of us, especially when you look at their preparations and training schedule.”
“It’s a very open section,” adds Degrange, turning his attention to the pool as a whole. “Obviously we know the Germans very well, but we’re less familiar with Colombia and Costa Rica. I’m hoping to be able to watch some of their games so I can get a better idea of how good they are. I’d imagine that just like us they’ll be making a pretty strong case for second place in the group.”
In contrast to the Germans, France have had little opportunity to get together and prepare for the big event. With the players focusing on their college exams over the winter, Degrange has so far only been able to meet up with the squad for a few days in early May, during which time they played friendlies against Sweden and the Paris St Germain women’s team. After losing the first game 2-1, Les Bleuettes bounced back to win the second by the same scoreline. “It was good to meet up and spend some time together,” says their coach. “It’s given us something to build on.”
And as Degrange goes on to explain, the strength of his side lies more in its unity and collective spirit rather than any individual strengths: “That’s our backbone. We’re focusing on the team’s potential as a group and not on the individual abilities of each player. Our main attribute is that togetherness, those unbreakable little ties between a group of players who’ve known each other for quite a while now. It’s those ties that allow them to go out and excel themselves.”
Degrange’s charges will need to draw on that team spirit if they are to make an impression in Germany this summer. Starting off their campaign against Colombia in Bochum on 13 July, they then face Costa Rica three days later. Then comes the all-important meeting with the hosts in Augsburg on 20 July, a match that will go a long way to revealing the strength of the Bleuette challenge and their ability to break new ground.