Having got their Group B campaign off the ground with an impressive defeat of Turkey, France's match winner Yassine Benzia insists that his team are hitting their stride.
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Yassine Benzia believes France are starting to show what they are capable of after moving into second place in Group B with a welcome win against Turkey.
Les Petits Bleus had made a slow start to the UEFA European Under-19 Championship as they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Georgia on Saturday, yet all that was swiftly forgotten as Adrien Hunou opened the scoring against Turkey in the sixth minute in Alytus. "Scoring early made the match easier for us," striker Benzia told UEFA.com.
"[Starting positively] was what the coach wanted – to press Turkey high up the pitch, use our full-backs and get the ball wide early. We managed to do that. Turkey are a good team, they attack a lot and fight really hard. It was quite a difficult match, we had to be patient and concentrate. We got the win and we're happy with that."
France built on the advantage provided by that early breakthrough to take control of Tuesday's game. Benzia capitalised on Okan Aydın's failure to cut out Adrien Rabiot's through pass to slot in what proved a decisive second goal just past the hour. "It was a good pass from Adrien and I managed to capitalise on the defender's error, but mostly I'm happy that it helped us win," explained the Olympique Lyonnais forward, who also scored four times in qualifying. "I really like this competition and I'm hoping we can go as far as possible."
The Turkey match certainly represented a significant step forward for Francis Smerecki's side, with coach and player agreeing the team have been improving game by game. "We only started working with our clubs on 1 July," Benzia, 18, said. "It's hard because we were on holiday in June, then we had a short time with our clubs and then we were straight off to the national team. That means the players are not all at the same level physically. In this tournament we're going to be able to show our capabilities more in every match and our level's going to get better every time. Tonight we did that; we played well."
Despite finding their cutting edge in their second fixture, according to Benzia France can get even better, having conceded their first goal in five competitive U19 fixtures – a run of 491 minutes – due to İbrahim Yılmaz's late penalty for Turkey at the Alytus Stadium. "[We can still improve] our quality of play. We must work as a team and fight for everything," the No9 added. "We have to stick together all the time."
Group B concludes for France with Friday's fixture against Serbia, who are already in the semi-finals with wins from their first two games. Smerecki's charges need a point to be sure of joining them, although three will give them first place in the section. For Benzia, though, the initial task is the most important. "We want to beat Serbia but the main aim is to get to the semi-final, whether we finish first or second," he said. "It'll be a good match and we have to make sure we prepare properly."