After the shock of shipping an early goal, France were understandably relieved to overcome Croatia with Gaël Kakuta having particular reason to be thankful for Les Petits Bleus' recovery.
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France were relieved to finally see off Croatia in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-finals with Gaël Kakuta having particular reason to be thankful for the way Les Petits Bleus recovered from their early shock in Caen.
Francis Smerecki's side fell behind in just the fourth minute, Arijan Ademi heading Croatia in front from a free-kick to silence the majority of a crowd in excess of 9,000 at the Stade Michel-d'Ornano. Although Kakuta levelled with an assured finish shortly before half-time, his post-match mood afterwards was distinctly downbeat, the forward telling UEFA.com: "[I was scared] a little as it is because of me we conceded that goal. I miscontrolled the ball, and after that came a foul and the goal.
"We put pressure on our own shoulders by conceding early," added Kakuta, who nevertheless took comfort from the way his side had bounced back and grown stronger as the match wore on. "After that goal we started to take over and set the pace of the game and everything went fine. During the game I thought we had a way to win this match easily. Then we moved the ball around. We were patient and it paid off. With the three weeks of preparation we went through, we also finish the games strongly."
The equaliser set the scene for an 83rd-minute winner from Cédric Bakambu. The striker came off the bench in place of Yannis Tafer to finish calmly after an incisive Francis Coquelin burst, and earn Kakuta's praise. "Cédric did not give up. He scored his two goals in the first match but none in the second nor against England. He kept his chin up and continued working hard in training. This time he came on and scored so it all paid off. He and Yannis are two different styles of player. Cédric lays off the ball and goes while Yannis keeps it and looks for a one-two. [I get on well] with both of them. This is a very good group; everyone has fun with each other. A nice chemistry is born off the pitch and that makes things easy on it."
Blocking the way to a first U19 title since 2005 are a Spain side who dismantled Smerecki's team in the U17 final two years ago and, with ten survivors from that squad in France's 18-man party, Kakuta acknowledges the prospect of revenge is a powerful motivation. "Spain are not our old friends, they are our enemies," he said. "Two years ago they trashed us 4-0 so it will be a good revenge for us. They take good care of the ball and are very patient. We will try to work on that. It will be a good match. After what they did to us two years ago, everybody is looking forward to it."