Smerecki proud of France character
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Francis Smerecki paid tribute to France's "confidence and mental strength" after the hosts came from a goal down to beat Croatia and reach the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final.
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France coach Francis Smerecki breathed a sigh of relief after his side survived a vigorous examination at the hands of Croatia to set up a meeting with Spain in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final thanks to Cédric Bakambu's late winner. Francis Smerecki bemoaned the sluggish start which allowed Arijan Ademi to head Croatia into a fourth-minute lead before Gaël Kakuta's equaliser turned the course of the match, leaving beaten coach Ivica Grnja to reflect on a highly successful time in Normandy.
Francis Smerecki, France coach
It was a tricky match, as it always is when you're lacking a bit of freshness. That makes things difficult, as does going a goal down to a good team who are difficult to play against and are very compact. But with our force of character and several moments of class – particularly in the second half – we came out on top. This was the first time in the tournament we've fallen behind and we saw the team show confidence and mental strength to get back into it. That's so important. The influence of the substitutes was really useful as well; we saw that with Alexandre Lacazette and Cédric Bakambu, who scored the decisive goal.
In the first half, especially in the first few minutes, we were struggling physically. Croatia played a great match to qualify for the semi-finals and they were really up for it. As a squad in the second half we found a better balance and put together some interesting attacks. We're really happy; at U19 level the two teams from the U17 final two years ago are going to meet again and that's a strong sign. These are the two best teams in terms of UEFA youth competitions. I hope we haven't spent too much energy; we've got three days to recover. We don't have too much time to recover and prepare but we'll try to match Spain and to be victorious.
Ivica Grnja, Croatia coach
After a great match against Portugal which secured our place in the semi-finals and the [2011 FIFA U-20] World Cup, we played very well again here. We did our best and we gave France as tough a test as possible. I knew France are a very good team who play very well and that was only emphasised again tonight.
It makes sense that France and Spain are in the final because they're both good teams with fabulous players; we've played both and each game followed a similar pattern as we were leading 1-0 and lost 2-1. It will be a great final. This is the first time Croatia have qualified for this championship; every team deserves to be here, no one's here by accident. We wanted to show everyone on the pitch and with our performances that we did too and we've certainly done that.