France's UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-final against Spain may look too close to call, but Elhadji Ba is predicting coach Pierre Mankowski will find the key to victory.
All 18 members of Mankowski's squad have featured so far in Estonia, Ba starting the 2-1 matchday three defeat by England that left Les Bleuets second in Group B. The Le Havre AC midfielder expects the coach to shuffle his pack again for the semi-final, and even if that does not mean he cannot be guaranteed a starting berth, he recognises the importance of the bigger picture.
"The coach is a great tactician," Ba told UEFA.com. "He has taken us to the semi-finals so he has made some good decisions. We all get on well with him and that is important in this kind of competition. We are all prepared to make our own contribution, whether that be at the start of the first half or at the end of the second. We are all ready to be there for the team and that is our real strength."
Mankowski's rotation policy may have contributed to the loss to England, but Ba believes the changes improved the team spirit. "Everybody has got a game," he explained. "There is a great atmosphere in the squad. He wanted to give everybody a slice of the action, whether it was in the first, second or third game, and that is good for the atmosphere."
More changes may be in the offing for the semi-final, yet Ba is philosophical about a possible return to the bench. "If I play against Spain or not depends on the tactics, the players available and how we approach this game. The coach will have his ideas and if I am part of that, I will start. Otherwise I may be required to come on during the game.”
What will be also required is belief and confidence, something the 19-year-old Parisian is not lacking: "
Spain are a good team, but so are we. They have quality, but so do we. The most determined side will win this game."
Any notions of Spain being unbeatable were swiftly dismissed. "I don't see them like that," added Ba. "They are humans like us so we will do all we can to win. Maybe it is better if they are favourites for this game so we can come into it with nothing to lose." For Ba, defeat is not an option anyway. "Whether it is the coach or the players, we don't like losing," he said. "We are here to win."
That has been Ba's ethos since he first started kicking a ball around his quartier in the French capital. "I just wanted to enjoy myself and that gave me a winning mentality. Now it is about more than just enjoying myself; it is my job and my career. These are my first steps at an official international tournament so it is a good start, but I am a winner and I always want more."
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