Under-20s win World Cup
19 July ~ Last Saturday evening, France's Under-20 squad celebrated wildly as a 4-1 penalty shootout success over Uruguay brought the nation its first world champions at that age group. Pierre Mankowski's team enabled France to become the first nation to win all of FIFA's five major international titles and reinvigorated enthusiasm for the national team after disappointing performances from the senior side at both World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. The squad travelled with high hopes, despite losing Real Madrid's Raphaël Varane to injury before the tournament.
Captained by midfield behemoth Paul Pogba, who Manchester United sold to Juventus in 2012, they had a player of high pedigree who had been capped already by Didier Deschamps at senior level. In addition to Pogba, named the tournament's outstanding player, the squad exuded quality.
It is hard to imagine that players such as Bastia midfielder Florian Thauvin, Sevilla defensive-midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and left-back Lucas Digne, who has just completed a €15 million (£13m) move to Paris Saint-Germain from Lille, will not join Pogba with Les Bleus on a regular basis. Meanwhile several more, including defenders Kurt Zouma of St Etienne and Lyon's Samuel Umtiti, have the raw potential to be top-level performers.
Heralding the success, Deschamps, who was present in Istanbul to watch live, explained that it was a "very important victory for the future of French football", though he was equally keen to warn that the young players still have "many steps to take". The coach of the senior teams is doubtless aware that predecessors Raymond Domenech and Laurent Blanc were both hindered by the egotism of their squads at recent major tournaments. The most recent case came last summer when the Under-21s crashed out of their European Championship in a disreputable manner as a group of players were caught nightclubbing shortly before a vital play-off match against Norway.
The Under-20 squad, however, was a well-forged unit, apparently bonded by video games, poker parties and ice cream at the Clairefontaine training centre prior to their departure for the competition. "They have set a magnificent example," said Willy Sagnol, who will inherit this generation in his new capacity as Under-21 boss. "This is a group of friends proud to wear the jersey and achieve as much as possible." Arrived at the summit L'Equipe declared on its front page the following morning, with France's jubilant young footballers an especially fitting Bastille Day picture for the nation to wake up to. Les Bleus could be on the verge of another golden generation if properly harnessed. As Deschamps pointed out, this was a step in the right direction. Robin Bairner