Sunday 21 May 2017, 01:32

Bleuets ready to take on the best

  • France head to Korea Republic 2017 as reigning European U-19 champions

  • Though eligible for the tournament, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are just two of the big French names who have not made the trip

  • Coach Ludovic Batelli: "It’s a privilege to coach players with their quality and mindset."

Back in July 2013, the likes of Paul Pogba, Samuel Umtiti, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Alphonse Areola added to their already-burgeoning reputations by announcing themselves on the global stage and firing France to their first FIFA U-20 World Cup title. Four years on from Turkey 2013, a new wave of fast-flourishing Bleuets are aiming to do the same in Korea Republic.

“The 1997 generation has got a lot of talent,” said France coach Ludovic Batelli, in conversation with “I know how fortunate I am to have these players available to me and to have been able to bring the younger guys in gradually, based on their maturity and talent, like Kylian Mbappe and Christ Maouassa.

“It’s a privilege to coach players with their quality and mindset. Their amazing talent has seen most of them break through at the highest level with their clubs more quickly than they might have done. And it’s partly thanks to that individual talent that the team managed to have that happy ending at the European Championships.”

Les Bleuets are in fine fettle ahead of Korea Republic 2017, still buoyed by their hugely impressive run to the European title, which they capped with a 4-0 win over an Italy side that had conceded only three goals en route to the final.

“I know we’re going to be tagged as favourites because we’re the European champions,” added Batelli, a former goalkeeper. “I don’t think that we are, though that doesn’t mean to say we don’t have ambition. We want to go a long way. But you can’t really say that we’re favourites when we’re missing five or six big players.”

High hopes Batelli’s caution is explained by the fact that he will be without the services of his very best players in the Far East, with Ousmane Dembele, Mbappe, Maxime Lopez, Theo Hernandez, and Christ Maouassa all missing the trip. “It would have been a real bonus to have had them, but it’s the team aspect I find most frustrating,” said the coach. “It takes time for a team to really gel.

“We’re going to bring in some good players; I’m not worried about that. It’s the whole team dynamic that’s the problem. I had two years to build a side for the U-19 European Championships, which gives you time to work on triggers and the like. But with all the absences we’ve got here and such little time available to us, it’s going to be a bit tough to do that.”

Nevertheless, Les Bleuets have an unmistakable air of success about them. With players of the calibre of Christopher Nkunku, Lucas Tousart, Jean-Kevin Augustin and Issia Diop, all of whom already have Ligue 1 experience under their belts, the French still have many reasons to be optimistic ahead of the tournament. “We’ve got another group of players with other qualities, a different way of seeing things, perhaps even another way of playing,” said Batelli. “One thing’s for sure: there is quality there.”

His charges can expect a tough test in the group phase at Korea Republic 2017, as he acknowledged: “There might not be any giants of world football in our group, but you always get surprises at U-17 and U-20 World Cups. Let’s just watch our step. Honduras are the kind of team, for example, that you have to be careful of.”

With Batelli’s boys all set to play their opening match, against Los Catrachos in Cheonan next Monday, we are about to find out if they are ready to bloom.