There was plenty of mutual respect between the coaches of France and Serbia ahead of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final, although both are confident they have the players to make the difference in Marijampole.
Having each emerged from epic semi-finals – Serbia finally seeing off Portugal on penalties before France ended Spain's two-year reign as holders in extra time – both Francis Smerecki and Ljubinko Drulović acknowledged that recuperation after those exertions had formed a key part of their final preparations. "We still have recovery work to do; that's been very important after extra time," the Franch coach explained. "It will be hard to contain the players' eagerness. We'll make sure they're motivated to win."
"We've done our best to help the players recover; our focus has been to make sure we're ready physically," added Drulović, who has Milan Vojvodić available again after the midfielder's semi-final suspension. "We both had tough semi-finals and deserve to be in the final – anyone who eliminates Spain and Portugal does. It will be an interesting game for the fans, and of course I expect it to be very hard. We know France very well."
The teams played each other on matchday three, when a 1-1 draw in Kaunas took both into the last four, with Drulović resting six players as Serbia were already assured of progress. "Of course it will be a different team from the group stage; then I wanted to protect my players from a possible semi-final suspension," the Serbia coach said. "I will make changes but
I expect the same hard work the players have shown in the previous four games. If they do that, we can hope for the best."
Coach when France claimed their second U19 title three years ago, in contrast to a Serbia team who are in their first final, Smerecki and his staff can boast considerable experience in contests such as this. "Experience is most useful for the individual who has it, but we'll try to pass our knowledge on to the players," he explained. "I don't know if it makes us calmer but I do know it can help in terms of our preparation, organisation and in the small details that can be decisive."
Drulović agreed that those small moments could settle the contest. "I don't want to single out individual French players, they have fantastic players throughout the team," he added. "They'll be dangerous from everywhere and we must take care of them as a group, not as 11 individuals. France are very strong opponents and the team that makes fewer mistakes will win."
Smerecki described Serbia as "a very well organised team with [several] high-quality players" and believes it might take a moment of magic to prise the sides apart. "We have lots of respect for Serbia," he said. "Both sides have players who can win the game.
In every final there are one or two players who eventually settle it in their team's favour, and it's not always the ones you expect."
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