France took an unusual route to the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals and coach Guy Ferrier wants to take full advantage of their opportunity.
Usually only the seven elite round group winners qualify but, as hosts Liechtenstein withdrew their team, a berth was opened up for the best runners-up from March's mini-tournaments and 2004 champions France pipped holders Germany to that honour on goal difference thanks to a concluding 4-0 win against Wales, having lost to Turkey in their opener. Ferrier's side open Group A next Tuesday against Spain before facing two other former titleholders in Portugal and Switzerland, and Ferrier told UEFA.com that the prospect was "exciting".
UEFA.com: Does the fact your team recovered from losing their opening elite round match show their maturity?
Guy Ferrier: It is true they were very disappointed after the first game and I said to them: 'It is not the end because of the new rules and you are still alive. You have to think about that and it is possible to qualify if you want it.' The next day we relaxed but they knew their chances. Against Norway it was very difficult, we won 1-0 at the end of the game and we were still alive. The third game against Wales, we were free. We missed a lot of chances and we could have won 8-0 because the team were free in their minds. They wanted to do it, the French team have a good mentality.
UEFA.com: What do you think of your draw?
Ferrier: It's a great group. It is a very difficult group but also it is very exciting for France to play such high-level matches, especially for the players. They really want to play against the best teams like Spain. The game against Portugal will be very difficult and Switzerland are a very good U17 team. It is very exciting for France to play these games.
UEFA.com: What do you know about your opponents?
Ferrier: It is a great honour for France to play Spain because they have won a lot of titles, eight in all, and for the players it is a great chance to evaluate their level. It's not a drama if they lose against Spain but it is very good to test yourselves against the best in Europe. Along with Spain, Portugal are favourites in this group, but we played them [losing 3-0] and we know their level. I think we are at the same standard. They have aggressive players, who play well with a lot of enthusiasm. I think it will be a very high standard game. Switzerland have made a lot of progress in the last ten years. We know the Swiss team well as they are every close and we have a lot of friendships with Switzerland, and a lot of respect for their team. They are a very good team.
We finished second in our group so we consider ourselves outsiders.
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