Contenders France eye winning start against New Caledonia
Guwahati, Oct 7 (PTI) France will look to replicate their European Championships success on the global stage as they kick off their campaign in the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a game against debutants New Caledonia here tomorrow.
A formidable force in international football, France are not among the more successful teams in the U-17 tournament, but they will draw confidence from their showings in the Euro U-17, in which they reached the quarterfinals.
France and Japan are favourites to qualify for the knockouts from Group E, which also has Honduras, besides New Caledonia.
The likes of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri came through this event and France will be hoping that they get a few more in the current edition of the tournament.
A winner of the 2001 edition in Trinidad and Tobago, France have competed in only five of the 16 finals, and it is the first time they have qualified for successive editions after getting knocked out in the Round of 16 in 2015, Chile.
France will look to get off to an impressive start before the group's marquee match against Japan on October 11. But, at the moment, France are focussed on the game against their former colony.
The last team to qualify from Europe, France have come well prepared, training with the likes of teams such as Olympique Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain.
Following their first appearance in 1984, France have also reached the quarter-finals twice in 2007 and 2011.
The players to watch out for, among others, are striker Amine Gouiri, who top scored in the U-17 Euros with eight goals to his name, and his strike partner Yacine Adli.
As far as their opponents are concerned, a population of about 2.70 lakh will make New Caledonia the smallest nation ever to play in a FIFA World Cup.
And coach Dominique Wacalie is keen that the French territory is there not just to make up the numbers.
"Our ambition is to represent our country and our football at the highest level. Our intent is to put in our best and enjoy every moment. We don't want to be spectators. We want to be competitive," Wacalie had told PTI in an interview.
According to Wacalie, his players are typically Oceanian, and "like to play a quick and lively style"