"I really can't wait to be there." The FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014 still lies almost a month away, but Griedge Mbock Batty is already counting down every second to the big kick-off. And the France defender is not alone either. With memories still fresh of her last appearance on the global stage, fans of Les Bleuettes are no less thrilled by the prospect of seeing her in action.
It is fair to say that Mbock Bathy left quite an impression at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Azerbaijan 2012. Not only did she help France lift the trophy, picking up the adidas Ballon d'Or in the process, she greeted her team's victory with an unforgettable dance routine.
"It's only normal to have a little dance when you win or when you've got something to celebrate," she told FIFA.com, now hoping for an encore on Canadian soil. A key figure in France's U-20 side, she sees no reason to change her exuberant approach – although the choice of dance could be different this time around.
"In Azerbaijan, it was the 'Dougie', and in Canada it'll be the 'Bela' or the 'Nae Nae'," she said, bursting into laughter. "Everything's ready. The choreography has already been worked out and now it just needs perfecting."
All that remains, of course, is for France to shine where it matters most and plot a campaign worth celebrating. If they do, Mbock Bathy is unlikely to be the only player showing off her moves. "A few of the girls liven things up in the squad and work on choreographies, but it's true that I'm not the last one to get involved."
In addition to leading the dance, the Guingamp centre-back is an organising presence on the pitch, bringing her influence to bear at the heart of France's defence. "Griedge has a quiet strength," said her coach Gilles Eyquem. "She came in and immediately took on an important role in the defence and the way the team plays. She's young and she's building experience. She has the qualities required to have a great career and she just needs to add maturity."
We all play regularly at a high level, and we've got a squad that can challenge in Canada.
All the indicators suggest Mbock Bathy will rise to that challenge too. After all, she has made stunning progress so far, following up France's triumph in Azerbaijan with victory at the 2013 UEFA European Women's U-19 Championship. She was then rewarded with a stint in the senior side at this year's Cyprus Cup, which gave her the chance to play alongside two of her idols, Wendie Renard and Laura Georges.
"I was on tiptoes when I got there," she recalled. "It's not that I felt out of place, I just realised I was surrounded by great players. To find myself there with them was just huge. In my first game, Laura spoke to me a lot, during every challenge and every pass. Her main piece of advice was always to play the way I know I can. Because of that, I didn't put pressure on myself."
Having memorised that message, Mbock Bathy continues to make impressive strides. "I've improved because of all the experience I've gained since I started playing in the first division and due to my time with the senior team," she said.
Indeed, first capped by Philippe Bergeroo this year, and voted best young player in the French championship in 2013 and 2014, she is now ready for the latest phase of her education with the U-20s. "I've observed a lot and tried to reproduce what the older players do. I've added a little more experience. We all play regularly at a high level, and we've got a squad that can challenge in Canada."
Guarding against complacency
France will begin their World Cup bid in Group D along with Costa Rica, New Zealand and Paraguay. None of those teams can claim much pedigree in the tournament, but Mbock Bathy and Co will be taking nothing for granted.
"Nothing's ever won in advance, and we'll need to be even more focused against teams with lesser reputations to avoid the trap of thinking it'll be easy," explained the 19-year-old, born in Brittany to a family with Cameroonian roots. "When you play against stronger sides, the concentration and motivation come naturally, and you always want to give more. Against weaker teams, it's up to us to make the games easy."
She is mindful too that the favourites don't always come out on top. "The draw doesn't mean very much. In 2012, we had USA and North Korea in our group and nobody gave us the slightest chance, but we ended up going all the way."
The youngster would relish a repeat performance as that victory in Azerbaijan remains a cherished memory, with her trophy enjoying pride of place in the Mbock Bathy household.
"It's at home in a cabinet where I keep all the medals I've won since I was little," said the gifted stopper, who is also studying a course in Sciences and Techniques of Physical and Sports Activities. "I put it in the middle, and every time I look at it, it brings back a whole load of memories and emotions. There's still room in the cabinet, but it's going to be filled up soon."
Ideally, Mbock Bathy would love to weigh down its shelves with not just one more trophy but two. Canada 2014 remains the goal for now, but the ambitious defender is looking further ahead as well, to the FIFA Women's World Cup™ in the same country next year.
"That's a double motivation for me: to try and win the World Cup this year and earn a place in the squad for next year," she explained, perhaps with another victory dance already in mind. "I hope it happens. It's up to me to work hard and be committed in everything I do."