Boutobba: France playing without pressure

“We’ve reached our first objective today,” France wide-man Bilal Boutobba told after Les Bleuets had sealed their place in the last 16 of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 with their second win in as many games. In racking up ten goals in seeing off New Zealand and now Paraguay, the French have announced themselves as one of the favourites to take the trophy.

It was Boutobba who got the French juggernaut rolling in their opening game against the Young All Whites, sending in a cross that forced a Kiwi defender to put through his own goal and then becoming the first Bleuets player to get his name on the scoresheet at Chile 2015. The winger was at it again in the seven-goal thriller against the Paraguayans in Puerto Montt on Friday, opening the scoring in France’s 4-3 win.

Yet despite his contribution to France’s perfect start, Boutobba is refusing to get carried away: “We came here to go as far as we possibly can in the competition. We’re taking each match as it comes and trying to string the wins together.”

Soaking it all up The 17-year-old exudes an air of confidence and calm at what is his first major global tournament, and rejected the idea that the reigning European U-17 champions are under pressure to perform: “There’s no pressure on us at all. It’s very important for us to be European champions, but that’s the past and this is the present. We’re just trying to play good football and enjoy ourselves.”

The French have certainly been doing that, racking up six goals in their comprehensive defeat of New Zealand and then seeing off a determined Paraguay side in a pulsating encounter. “We play a very attacking game,” explained Boutobba. “We’ve got some pretty effective players who know their way around the penalty box, and it’s no surprise that we’re scoring so many goals. It all comes down to teamwork.”

Daring to dream Over the years a number of young talents have made their breakthroughs at the U-17 World Cup, with several of them going on to become legends of the world game. Chile 2015 could well see a clutch of Bleuets players kick on and follow the trail blazed by the likes of Paul Pogba and his team-mates at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, where they showed that the class that augurs a bright future for France’s seniors.

Contemplating that future for a moment, Boutobba listed his role models in the game: “In the France team I’d be like Karim Benzema, and on the international front I like the way Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben both play.” That admiration is not surprising, given that they are both left footers, like Boutobba, who was handed three Ligue 1 starts by Marcelo Bielsa at Olympique Marseille last season.

The next step for Boutobba and his team-mates on the long road to stardom and global recognition is their final Group F outing against Syria, another occasion that he will be looking to enjoy to the full.