France’s youth teams have never lacked for talent, considering the significant number of French players who find themselves, often at a very young age, on the books of some of the biggest clubs in the game. Unfortunately, the results have rarely matched the quality of players coming through. In fact, prior to securing their ticket for the 2013 tournament, Les Bleuets had only qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup four times out of a possible 18. At the inaugural event in Tunisia, back in 1977, the French failed to advance past the group stage, while at Malaysia 1997 and Argentina 2001, they were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Returning to the event after a ten-year gap, at Colombia 2011, the European side started off with a defeat by the host nation before bouncing back to record a series of wins that took them as far as the semi-finals, where they fell to a strong Portugal team. France subsequently brought the curtain down on their campaign with a loss to Mexico in the match for third place.
Les Bleuets earned their spot at Turkey 2013 by reaching the last four of the 2012 UEFA European U-19 Championship in Estonia. In the group phase, they outclassed Serbia 3-0 and defeated Croatia 1-0, before suffering a 2-1 reverse to England, an apparently ‘meaningless’ result that the French players would later rue, as it would have enabled them to finish top of Group B and thereby bypass future champions Spain in the semi-finals. As it was, they could not avoid them, and after an entertaining 3-3 draw, the Iberians emerged victorious on penalty kicks to qualify for the final and send France home.
With a host of individual stars who have already proved they have what it takes to compete at the highest level, such as defender Samuel Umtiti at Lyon or Paul Pogba at Manchester United and Juventus, France have the potential to equal or even outshine the achievements of their compatriots in Colombia. Guided by experienced coach Pierre Mankowski, the French will look to apply the same mindset as they did in Estonia in order to go one step further in Turkey. “We’re a very strong, united team, and we’ve shown that we never give up,” said midfielder Umtiti. “We’ll approach the U-20 World Cup in the same way as the European Championship. We’ll try to use the same players and to get as far as possible,” he added.