- France take on Spain in the quarter-finals of Brazil 2019
- Isaac Lihadji is particularly keen to take part in the match
- An injury prevented the Bleuets winger moving to Spanish football six years ago
France-Spain has all the hallmarks of a classic duel of European – or even global – football. The two teams have met multiple times, in every possible age category, at UEFA European Championships (1984, 2000 and 2012) and in FIFA World Cup™ tournaments (2006). In short, it is usually a must-see fixture, and that description will be no different in Goiania, when the two nations lock horns at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019 on Monday.
“It’s always an exciting game to play in," France’s Isaac Lihadji told FIFA.com. “We’re all pretty familiar with Spain. They’re a great footballing nation. But we’ll approach the match like we have all the others, without putting too much pressure on ourselves. That’s worked quite well for us so far.”
Although Lihadji appears calm and composed on the outside, he likely has a multitude of emotions bubbling away under the surface. In fact, the match against Spain has particular relevance for the young Marseille winger: he has always been an admirer of the Iberian country, but he also experienced a major personal disappointment there.
“I’ve always liked Spain, that’s true,” said the skilful Frenchman. “I love the way they play football. When I was a kid, I dreamed of signing for Barcelona. And I was actually very close to making that dream a reality in 2013, but in the end it didn’t happen.” Indeed, although he was on the verge of joining La Masia, Barcelona’s youth academy, to pursue his football development, he unfortunately broke his leg, an injury that inevitably sidelined him for several long months.
“It was tough at the time, but it’s totally behind me now,” continued the talented No18. “I don’t have any regrets. I’m very happy with my life at the moment in Marseille.” It should be said that L’OM do whatever they can to ensure he is comfortable, and have already offered him a professional contract. Aware that the club might have a budding star on their hands, coach Andre Villas-Boas even handed him his Ligue 1 debut earlier this season. But for now, Lihadji’s full focus is on Brazil 2019.
“Taking part in the U-17 World Cup is a dream come true,” he explained. “But I’ve got an even greater one in mind – winning the competition. For now, we’re just trying to make sure that our adventure continues, and for that to happen we have to keep winning our matches.”
One of three ever-presents
And up to this point, that is what they have done – in fact, France have triumphed in all their games so far in Brazil. Lihadji (two goals, one assist), whose pace and technique on the right flank have impressed onlookers, has played a significant role in that success. He is one of three players (goalkeeper Melvin Zinga and captain Lucien Agoume the others) to have started all of Les Bleuets’ matches at the tournament so far, and he is likely to get the nod again versus La Rojita, who appear more than ready to deal with the challenge posed by Lihadji and his team-mates.
“Isaac is a really good player – he showed that at the European U-17 Championship,” said Spain forward Pablo Moreno. “We know France pretty well. We train hard so we can be ready to face any side, but we’re aware that matches against a team of this calibre are often massively intense and eventful.”
With two strong teams, a spot in the semi-finals at stake, and an on-song Lihadji starring, that is likely to be the case again on Monday.