A year on from first hitting the headlines as a 17-year-old substitute, free-scoring France striker Marie Laure Delie is relishing her central role.
A year ago at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship Marie Laure Delie was a 17-year-old France substitute who hit the headlines when she came off the bench to strike the goal that took Les Bleuettes past Finland and into the final. Now Delie is firmly established as a starting striker for Stéphane Pilard's side and is level at the top of this tournament's scoring charts with prolific Russian Elena Danilova.
Indeed, two of Delie's three goals came versus Russia on Matchday 1 as France stormed to a 4-1 win against the team that beat them on penalties in the 2005 final. "I am very happy," Delie told uefa.com. "The Russian defence was formidable last year so it was a little bit easier this time. But it was the same in the first game last year [that France won 4-0] and we didn't win the final."
France remain on course to go one better after they defeated the Netherlands 1-0 last night - Delie, naturally, claiming the only goal. Thinking back to their run last year, Delie has mixed feelings. "I was very happy to be in the final - I was an U17 last year - but very disappointed to lose," she said. "Our motivation has been high this season and personally I have worked very hard."
Even though Delie is young enough to still be eligible for the U19 tournament next year, she - having been capped at senior level - has the mantle of one of the senior members of the France squad. She said: "The younger players are the same age I was last year, I have more experience and try to help them deal with this."
France have seldom been one of the continents' top few forces in female football - they have never reached the UEFA European Women's Championship semi-finals - but at U19 level they won the title in 2004 and twice more in the past four years have been runners-up, a record better that anyone in that period. And that may have more than a little to do with the famed national school at Clairefontaine, of which Delie and much of the rest of the squad are pupils. "I train every day and can progress more quickly at Clairefontaine," she said. "We are the best players in France and play on the same team."
The aim is to match the achievements of the best French player of the senior generation, Marinette Pichon, who Delie cites as one of her role models. "She played in the same position that I do," Delie said. "And also Thierry Henry, because of his speed." Henry, like Delie last year, was on a side beaten on penalties in a final last week at the FIFA World Cup. That near miss from Les Bleus is driving Delie. "I am very motivated to get to the final, not only to get there but to win after the men lost on penalties," she said.