Rose Lavaud was left celebrating "a dream come true" after marking her surprise selection with the crucial equaliser as France won the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship for a second time.
Lavaud had made just one start at the tournament before Saturday's final but, in what would prove a masterstroke by coach Jean-Michel Degrange, she was surprisingly preferred to Anaïg Butel on the left wing. "He told me in the dressing room before the match and I was surprised, happy – very surprised in fact; I hadn't expected it at all," said the 18-year-old, the only change for either side following their last-four victories.
"I wasn't really prepared so I was forced to improvise my role," Lavaud added. "
I had no time to think about it, so I just went for it from the start." She certainly did, though her energetic, purposeful running came largely against the tide of wave after wave of English attack in the initial stages in Skopje. Jessica Holbrook eventually prodded home to put Mo Marley's side ahead on 25 minutes, but Lavaud's awareness ensured Les Bleuettes were not behind for long as she blocked a Lucia Bronze clearance, reacted first to the cannon and coolly slotted home.
It paved the way for Pauline Crammer's winner ten minutes into the second period, the striker capitalising on a Rebecca Spencer error, but for Degrange it was Lavaud's effort that proved decisive. "We responded to going behind almost immediately and that really helped us; had time gone by it would have become more and more difficult," said the coach, not least because of temperatures approaching 30C. "
Making it 1-1 gave us a mental boost and, as we know, mental state is as important as physical effort in this game."
That mental state, and the ability of the backroom staff to put players in the right frame of mind, has been tested in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The timing of the tournament has coincided with school examinations for many nations, France included. It has "complicated" things for Degrange, but with a teacher travelling with his squad they have managed to find the balance, getting the best of both worlds. It is a philosophy Lavaud said she was determined to emulate when asked what would take precedence: her Baccalauréat or celebrating her gold medal? "Simple. I am going to both study and party to the max."
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