France forward Léa Declercq endured a frustrating start to the 2013 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, having a penalty saved as her side were held by England – but her ambition remains undimmed.
It is in the green surroundings of France's base in Swansea that we meet Declercq, mulling Monday's goalless draw but already with sights fixed on Thursday's crucial encounter with Denmark. Relaxed in her training kit, she first analyses the stalemate in Llanelli. "We had a difficult game," she explains. "We knew England were a solid team. Our first half was good, we controlled possession, but our level dropped a bit after half-time and we could not convert our chances. We are a bit disappointed."
Next up is a meeting with early Group A leaders Denmark, fresh after their 1-0 win against hosts Wales. Declercq says the game – and its challenges - will be no different to the England match. "We are not familiar with their style," she says. "But the videos will probably confirm what we already think. It will be another physical match and it is up to us to impose our game. I am sure we can get a result."
Thursday's game in Steboneath Park is then already a must-win for the France team that nourishes so much ambition in this competition. And 18-year-old Declercq who won the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2012 knows what it takes to progress further. "Reaching the semis would mean qualification for the FIFA Women's Under 20 World Cup next year. We want to be there next August."
Suspended on Monday, playmaker Claire Lavogez should be back in the team and could be a real asset for France. "Claire is a technical player who likes to run at the goal and is excellent at passing. She will definitely be a great help against Denmark," Declercq declares. "The pressure is no higher on us [than before the England draw], but obviously we need a result if we want to go further in the competition."
France were among the pre-tournament favourites but Paris Saint-Germain FC new signing Declercq is keeping her feet on the ground. "Teams that play against us are always more motivated to win but we assume our status and we still want to go all the way. Playing a tournament like this is always a great experience and a great chance to play top-level football. We want to continue what we started at the U-17 World Cup.
"The atmosphere in the dressing room is excellent. We are a very close group of players and I think that is a real strength," she added. "We also get a chance to see our families after the games; it is important to have their support." Before leaving, Declercq further underlines what France are aiming for: "We are still in there and we want to win this Women's U19 EURO."
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