France midfielder Jérémy Toulalan said his side were "shattered" after the 3-2 defeat by the Netherlands that cost Les Bleuets a place in the final of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Portugal.
René Girard's team had given everything as they battled back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to force the game into extra time. Following the dismissal of Julien Faubert, however, the additional 30 minutes proved a step too far. "René knew we would come back and that is what happened, but we were too shattered to go for the victory," Toulalan told uefa.com. "We are disappointed. We managed to come back after a bad first half, but we spent a lot of energy trying to equalise and were completely exhausted during extra time. We just couldn't do any more. Besides that, with one player sent off, it became even harder."
Faubert's superb header six minutes after the restart had brought France back into the match and they earned overtime when Bryan Bergougnoux fired in a free-kick with five minutes to play. Faubert's sending-off for lashing out at Stijn Schaars with 103 minutes gone meant France had to play the second extra-time period with ten men, and in the heat of the late afternoon in Braga they were made to pay by Nicky Hofs who scored his second goal with 13 minutes remaining.
It was a cruel blow for France who had gone into the game as favourites after winning all three group matches, Toulalan impressing in particular with his strike during the 2-0 victory against Serbia and Montenegro. "We were collectively very strong during the group phase and that is what we missed during the first half," the Olympique Lyonnais player said. "Our lines were just not linked enough. We wanted the title, so we are very disappointed."
Girard added: "What we need to take from this tournament is the fantastic spirit shown by my players – what they've shown on the pitch as well as their attitude. Both teams had chances in the first half. We played at our maximum but maybe I could have made different choices when naming the squad because some of the players were still a bit tired. Sometimes it's like this - you choose the experience rather than a fresh player."
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