Boasting a perfect record in their UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying campaign, France are being widely tipped to continue catching the eye at next month's final tournament, which begins on Friday. For coach Jean-Claude Giuntini, however, a first U17 title since 2004 is secondary to the continued development of the latest crop of talented French youngsters.
UEFA.com: Can you say a few words about the opponents you will face in the group?
Jean-Claude Giuntini: This is a group with very different opponents. Germany, last year's finalists, are a really good team, a strong team who are used to playing in European final tournaments at youth level. Then we have Georgia, a team that knocked out Spain, England and Ukraine in their qualifying group. They must be a really strong team. There's also Iceland, who finished first in their group with very organised and solid football and very skilful players.
UEFA.com: Is your objective still to reach the semi-finals?
Giuntini: Yes, of course. I think we had a good qualifying campaign, eliminating Switzerland, Italy and Sweden. Now we must do well in this competition, by winning our games in order to progress.
UEFA.com: France have qualified for six consecutive finals at this level. What are the reasons for this success?
Giuntini: For us, it's a good benchmark of the development of our players who are taking part in these final tournaments. It's important for them in their career development, for their competition experience. It's also a good sign for us concerning the work achieved by the professional clubs who are represented in the national team.
UEFA.com: Looking at the stats, you are the strongest team in this tournament because you are the only ones to win every qualifying game. Is that true?
Giuntini: Yes. But we know that youth football is linked to a certain environment: a competition environment, an emotional environment. It gets more difficult at every successive stage. Young players have skills but they need to repeat games and performances. The points we got will stay at home, and teams like Poland qualified in a good manner as well. It depends how difficult the group games are.
UEFA.com: Which teams do you consider the strongest among the eight sides involved here?
Giuntini: We have played against the Netherlands a few times in the last two years. We have also played quite regularly against Germany; we know each other well. We have also played against Belgium. I would also say Georgia. I am not naming all the teams, but I think that Slovenia, as the host country, will want to do well in front of their fans. I think that every day, every game will be difficult. I think all the teams are to be feared. Germany and the Netherlands are used to competitions like this and have excellent players.
UEFA.com: Are you looking forward to it?
Giuntini: Yes, of course.
For the players it will certainly be a dream. We must turn this dream into reality by preparing well, but also by performing well and preparing very well for each game, and especially by preparing very well for the first game.
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