France coach Francis Smerecki is hoping to repeat his 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Championship success in Lithuania, but the first target is to progress to the semi-finals.
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A UEFA European Under-19 Championship winner on home soil with France in 2010, Francis Smerecki is targeting a repeat with the current crop in Lithuania. Though expecting the task to be harder than three years ago, the coach is aiming for the same outcome but admits he will need to use different methods. Placed in a tricky Group B containing Georgia, Turkey and Serbia, Les Bleus' first objective will be to progress to the semi-finals although, whatever the outcome, the coach knows the experience will be a milestone in the career of his players.
UEFA.com: After securing qualification in Austria, what is your objective in Lithuania?
Francis Smerecki: The most reasonable objective would be to get through the group stage. That is our goal, but we depend on the clubs, and the restart of the league season in France. Most of the clubs start again on 1 July, which leaves our preparation time a little bit short.
UEFA.com: Are any players missing?
Smerecki: We decided to leave Kurt Zouma at the Under-20 team's disposal [at the FIFA World Cup in Turkey]. He is not with us.
UEFA.com: Among your Group B opponents – Georgia, Turkey and Serbia – who are the biggest danger?
Smerecki: We do not have much information about these teams. We have not seen them. However, after what we have heard and the results we have seen, Turkey seem to be the favourites in this group.
UEFA.com: Do you feel lucky to have escaped the likes of Netherlands, Spain and Portugal in the draw?
Smerecki: I am always careful with that. I remember the Netherlands [who came bottom of the group] when we played the European Championship in France in 2010. Some countries do not manage to call up the same players who played the qualifying phase and the late restart by their clubs make it difficult for big nations to prepare well. The players' form is often different from what we observed during the elite round.
UEFA.com: How does this year's group of players compare to the class of 2010?
Smerecki: These are two really different generations; because of the individual talents and the combinations between players, they cannot be compared. We had been working with the 1991 generation, who became European champions, for four years. We have been working with the current squad for only 18 months. The work is different.
With the '91 boys, we had already experienced an U17 European championship together, where we lost in the final against Spain. There was a lot of preparation work, we knew the players better. This time, we had to do a lot to get hold of the players who could be called up. We had to look for players who had been forgotten in the selection process. Our work was done over a year. With the other generation, we started our work at the U16 level; we had four years to work with them.
UEFA.com: How important is it for these young players to compete at this level?
Smerecki: It will boost their career for sure. If we get to the last four of a big finals, whether it is the European championship or the World Cup, it almost guarantees a player a regular spot in Ligue 1. It is an opportunity to shine, and it allows them to compete against the best players from other countries. For these reasons they understand it is a very good thing to play well, to go through the group stage and to play the semi-finals.
UEFA.com: Do you get used to playing in finals or are these moments always special?
Smerecki: The routine is helpful in our organisation, but not in our results. Every time is a new match, a new group, we never know what will happen. But it is better to have experienced several finals before starting a new one.