Playmaker Necib on glory trail

Often compared with Zinedine Zidane, France starlet Louisa Necib has Russia and a gold medal in her sights.

By Kevin Ashby in Heviz

In assessing France's chances of success at the 2004 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in Finland, then coach Bruno Bini told "We have one new player who can do everything - it's like watching Zinedine Zidane". That player was Louisa Necib.

Surprise selection
With Bini having moved on after a group stage exit last year, Stéphane Pilard is now reaping the rewards of having the talented playmaker at his disposal in Hungary, where the French play Russia on Sunday for the continental crown. It is Necib's second championship of the summer, having been a surprise selection in Elisabeth Loisel's squad for UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™. "It was a very big surprise but a beautiful one," Necib told from the French base in Heviz near Lake Balaton.

Player of the match
Loisel primarily took Necib to England for the experience, fielding her once in the 3-0 loss to Germany which ended France's involvement at the group stage. Necib said of a performance which earned her a player of the match award: "I was extremely happy with that, but really disappointed that we were out. Germany were better than us in that specific game but if you look at the group as whole we didn't deserve to be eliminated."

Former gymnast
Like Zidane, Necib grew up kicking a ball around the streets of Marseille. "I did gymnastics for four years but at the same time I was always playing soccer in the streets with my friends - so at the age of 14 I stopped gymnastics and started to play club football," she said of a decision which initially caused much chagrin for her parents.

'So beautiful'
Necib's mother, Djamila, told Le Monde: "She was so beautiful when she did gymnastics. But in essence it was football that gave her the most pleasure as that was her true passion." Farouk, the player's father, added: "She is able to make a difference with small things, like Zidane. When there is nothing on, they see the ball. Her technique is a gift from God."

'Stronger mentally'
The precocious midfielder won her first cap at Under-17 level in the 2003 Nordic Cup and played three times in this competition last year prior to France's elimination on goals scored by Russia. "We learned a lot from that," Necib said. "Now we are more ready to succeed and all have the same aim. Mentally we are stronger. We've already beaten Russia but a final is unlike any other game."

Packed midfield
Necib enjoyed the freedom of Andrashida in that game as France ran out 4-0 winners, following it up with a 3-1 defeat of Scotland and 1-1 draw against England to win Group B and advance to a semi-final with Finland. The Scandinavians restricted Necib by playing five in midfield, but the 18-year-old was still able to find space and play the kind of passes which earned such praise from her father.

"France were outstanding with great individual skills, speed and vision," said Finland coach Jarmo Matikainen. "They had everything and you just have to admire the quality of the team." Necib will obviously be striving to replicate that quality today for a game she describes as the most important of a career destined for greatness.