Midfielder Lucien Agoume is captain of France's U-17 team
He missed the semi-final against Brazil through suspension
Agoume now hopes to steer Les Bleuets to the bronze medal
France lacked a little of everything during their 3-2 loss to the hosts in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™. They were crucially short of calmness, combativeness, resilience and passing precision, not to mention a touch of flair – a long list of qualities that might have been provided by Lucien Agoume. But instead of driving his team to victory, the France captain and midfielder was sidelined through suspension.
"After a defeat, you can always say the team was missing this or that player," explained coach Jean-Claude Giuntini following the game. "But it's true that Lucien is an important player. We knew that before the match. The starters gave everything, to the full extent of their abilities. We all wanted to win for Lucien so that he could play in the final. It's really harsh for him."
"Of course his absence was detrimental. He's the captain and he's a player who can put his stamp on a game. He's someone we needed."
Instead, the Inter Milan youngster was forced to watch from the stands as his team-mates suffered the slow agony of elimination. Before kick-off, Agoume was one of just four players to have started each of France's games at the finals, along with goalkeeper Melvin Zinga, winger Isaac Lihadji and defender Nianzou Kouassi. In short, he was indispensable for Les Bleuets.
"It's a lot more stressful to experience a game from the stands than on the pitch: you're a spectator, not a participant," adds the France skipper, speaking to FIFA.com. "To see the team let in three goals at the end, one after the other, without being able to go on the pitch… it really was a painful feeling. I spent the match trying to encourage them right to the end, sending them a signal when they went into the dressing room at half-time… but it wasn't enough."
Despite building a two-goal lead, France eventually cracked under Brazilian pressure. Kaio Jorge reduced the deficit and Gabriel Veron brought the scores level, before Lazaro applied the decisive final blow with a minute left to overcome a France side that seemed to have the game under control. "I was very disappointed and so were they," says Agoume. "After moments like that, it's difficult to find the words."
"Why did I make him captain? Because he's a very good player. And because, as a person, he's someone balanced and intelligent who cares about other people. Those were enough reasons for me to make my choice."
A positive ending after a promising start
Although France finished second best against Brazil, they now have a chance to end the tournament on a high, with European champions the Netherlands awaiting in Sunday's Play-off for Third Place. "To finish third would mean we still get a medal, even if it's not the one we wanted," says Agoume. "We've had a day to get over yesterday's defeat and it wasn't easy. Now we're focused on our last game against the Netherlands. We're obviously very keen to win and end on a positive note."
They certainly started brightly, and that was largely thanks to Agoume, whose penalty against Chile set the team on the road to an opening win. "My team-mates and the coaching staff have faith in me," he adds. "It was my responsibility to score that penalty to get us off to a good start in the competition." Three weeks later, they will now be counting on him to end their adventure in style.