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Timothée Kolodziejczak admitted the memory of a painful defeat two years ago had been a driving force for France as the UEFA European Under-19 Championship hosts came from behind to beat Spain and take the trophy.
Francis Smerecki's side were beaten 4-0 by their final opponents in the U17 showpiece in 2008 and looked set for more disappointment in Caen when they headed into half-time trailing to Rodrigo's goal. "In the first half we were dominated by a very good Spain team," Kolodziejczak said. "At half-time we regrouped mentally and physically we were stronger than them after that, and more incisive in individual battles. At half-time we looked at each other and said the score was the same at the same point two years ago and that we should not fall away physically."
Although a repeat of that U17 scoreline looked possible, if not likely, at the interval, instead Gilles Sunu's brilliant finish levelled four minutes into the second period before Alexandre Lacazette's dramatic late winner gave Les Petits Bleus the crown. "Two years ago we lost the final and we knew what it meant," Kolodziejczak added. "Before this match we said that whatever happens we had to win so as not to go through that again.
We were extraordinary in the second half, got in front and deserved the win."
While the Olympique Lyonnais left-back pointed to the physical element as a crucial factor, his team-mate on the right-hand side believed a chance Sergio Canales failed to convert seconds before Sunu's equaliser was the key moment. "That was a genuine turning point," Loïc Nego said. "We were a bit nonchalant in the first half, when Spain were much better, but in the changing room we talked, reminded ourselves we were at home and asked ourselves the right questions. In the second half we did not falter; we played our game and were superior physically. We felt Spain were a bit tired and we used that to challenge them."
The right-back hailed the 20,000-strong crowd at the Stade Michel-d'Ornano as "the 12th man who made the difference" and Kolodziejczak also paid tribute to the home support. "We knew we had to push forward for the fans who had been there all tournament and we didn't want to spoil it all by losing the final," he said, savouring the enjoyment of a long, draining period finally bringing reward. "For four years we have worked like crazy. Over the last month and a half, we've given everything to get here; now we've won the final and we are all proud. I don't have words right now. It's difficult to take in but we will celebrate it.
We are the best team in Europe; no one is better in our generation."
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