France
© AFP

The past
Such is the quality of French coaching that the country’s big clubs have become accustomed to recruiting their talent at a very young age. That policy has proved beneficial for France’s youth teams, which have traditionally fared well both in European and international competitions. Aside from becoming U-17 world champions at Trinidad and Tobago 2001, Les Bleuets have also won four continental titles at U-18 level, as well as two at U-19 and one in the U-17 category. However, they had to endure a five-year trophy drought prior to pipping Spain to the 2009/10 UEFA European Under-19 Championship title on home soil. In pulling off that notable achievement, the boys in blue also booked their return to the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals for the first time since Argentina 2001.

The present
Semi-finalists in Ukraine the previous year, France were determined to go all the way when they hosted the 2009/10 European Under-19 Championship finals. Proof of French intent came in the group phase, when they thrashed the Netherlands and Austria en route to topping the pool and booking their place at Colombia 2011 with plenty to spare. After disposing of Croatia in a tight semi-final, Les Bleuets renewed their old rivalry with a Spain team featuring many of the players that had inflicted a 4-0 defeat on them in the European U-17 final two years earlier. But despite falling behind in the first half, the steely French had their revenge when second-half goals from Gilles Sunu and Alexandre Lacazette swept them to a memorable win.

The future
Bolstered by that success, the European champions would appear to have every chance of securing the country’s second youth world title in what is only their fourth FIFA U-20 World Cup appearance. The undisputed leader of the French pack is playmaker Gael Kakuta, a star of Chelsea’s junior teams since 2007 and an increasingly familiar face in the first-team squad at Stamford Bridge. Attack-minded, gifted and well-drilled with it, this is a France side that enjoys their football, as Kukuta confirmed: “Everyone has fun in this team. The chemistry’s good on and off the pitch and that makes everything easier during games.” That blend of skill and team spirit could well prove a winning one in Colombia.