Opening games at major tournaments are rarely goal-laden thrillers, with these encounters generally tense affairs that, more often than not, turn on small but decisive details.
Today, the main detail behind France’s 3-1 victory against Ghana at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 went by the name of Geoffrey Kondogbia. The Sevilla midfielder opened the scoring on 65 minutes and, just three minutes later, supplying the pass for Auxerre’s Yaya Sanogo to put the men in blue 2-0 up in Istanbul.
Prior to Kondogbia’s inspirational spell, however, France had genuinely struggled to get going. In fact, captain Paul Pogba had seen fit to spend much of the first period urging his side on and even got into a debate with team-mate Florian Thauvin, which fortunately ended in the pair exchanging a motivational high-five.
“We started off hesitantly for the first 25 minutes or so; it was very difficult,” said Kondogbia, a tidy if subdued performer himself before the break, in a post-match chat with FIFA.com. “I don’t know what happened. We didn’t have our heads in the game at the start, which can sometimes happen.”
While some teams might turn on each other in the dressing room at half-time in similar circumstances, this crop of French talents and coach Pierre Mankowski instead engaged in a calm discussion of how to turn things around.
“At the end of the first half we knew things weren’t going right,” said Kondogbia. “But we didn’t lose our cool because we’d still been able to create several clear chances – we’d just lacked a finishing touch. What’s more, the Ghanaians hadn’t looked very dangerous, all of which spurred us on to put them under a bit more pressure.”
To sum up, patience was required and that is what Les Bleuets showed, with their greater second-half dynamism and Kondogbia’s breakthrough the reward. “It came from a move we’ve worked on in training, as Lucas [Digne] has a good long throw,” said the midfielder. “He’d tried the same thing ten minutes earlier, but I’d not made the run.
“The next time I told myself it was the right moment, that I needed to make the most of the opportunity, and I managed to get in a good header. Everything just fell into place,” added the player, who subsequently showed off his dancing feet in an eye-catching celebration. “Away from the pitch, we all love dancing and we’re generally a fun-loving bunch, so we try to find different ways to celebrate our goals.”
Buoyed by both the well-taken goal and subsequent smart dance steps, shortly afterwards Kondogbia slipped the ball through for his friend Sanogo to put the finishing touch to a fine team move. “Our playing style is based around movement, one-touch passing, always looking for the man in space and trying to work the flanks,” he explained. “That’s our footballing philosophy and, because I’ve got a very good understanding with Yaya [Sanogo], I didn’t hesitate to play the ball through to him first-time.”
Listening to the player speak, it is hard to believe he is only 20 years of age. However, the French midfielder of African descent has grown up enormously over the past season, having left Lens – where he came through the youth ranks before breaking into the first team – to join Sevilla in La Liga.
Wasting little time in nailing down a starting place, Kondogbia made 37 appearances in all competitions in his very first campaign in Spain. He duly picked up match practice, experience and a bullet-proof composure that can only be good for France’s U-20s, where he forms a fine midfield duo with Juventus star Pogba.
“Geoffrey has gained loads of experience this season in Spain,” said France boss Mankowski. “Above all he’s learned how to evaluate which moves are most important, those moments when he needs to stand up and make a difference. This is a vital quality to have in a competition like this. I’d go so far as saying that when Geoffrey’s on song, so is the whole team.”