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FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup

Fabulous France find strength in unity

France celebrate victory
© Getty Images

What is the France team's greatest strength? Ask any of the 21 members of their FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup squad and you will hear the exact same answer every time. It is not their excellent defence, symbolised by the battling qualities of Marion Romanelli, nor their ability to hold on to ball thanks to the likes of Goutia Karchouni, a player who seems to pop up everywhere on the pitch.

It is not even their attack, despite Kadidiatou Diani's return to form. Instead, France's major asset – according to the players pulling the strings – is their collective spirit, a bond of unity bringing together an array of divergent and forceful personalities.

"Our beliefs, attitudes and characters are diverse and varied," Karchouni explained to "There's a little bit of everything in this France team, but in the end everyone feeds off being around the others. We enjoy living together, chatting together, joking around and playing together. And I think that carries over to what we do on the pitch."

The dynamic has undoubtedly served them well at Azerbaijan 2012, and Diani is another player who has felt the benefits. "I can only agree with that," she said. "There's not one player who's like another, but we're united and we stand together. Our star is the squad itself."

Forging that unity has been vital to France's progress, particularly since they were drawn in the toughest group in the tournament alongside Korea DPR – their opponents in Saturday's final – United States and Gambia. In the end, they navigated their way through to the knockout phase in style.

"Honestly, we deserve our place in the final – we've given so much to get there and fought so hard, so it's only right," said Romanelli, before repeating a familiar theme. "As far as I'm concerned, what's made the difference is our collective strength."

There's not one player who's like another, but we're united and we stand together. Our star is the squad itself.

France's performances since the competition began certainly support the full-back's take, with no single player having stood out above the rest. Les Bleuettes are a supremely well-oiled unit in which everyone works for each other. They have also enjoyed more ball possession and racked up more shots and corners against all their previous opponents bar one.

Perhaps ominously, though, Korea DPR are the only team they have so far failed to dominate. "I'm happy to be facing them again in the final," added Romanelli. "It's going to be a great game. We lost to Germany in the EURO, so at the very least there's no risk of that happening again in the World Cup final."

True enough, as Germany slipped to a 2-1 defeat against the North Koreans in the last four, while France booked their own showpiece spot thanks to a sparkling 2-0 win against Ghana. Impenetrable at the back, impeccable in midfield and inspired going forward, Guy Ferrier's charges handed the Black Maidens a veritable football lesson.

"It's just magical," said Karchouni. "Whether we concede a goal or score one, we're united. There's always a team-mate ready to receive a pass and there's always someone there to make up for another player's mistake. It's perfect."

Even France's attack now seems to be firing on all cylinders after an indifferent start, Diani slipping two goals past the strongest defence in the tournament last time out. "I'd said that Kadi would score," explained Karchouni with a smile. "I was sure of it. I was even meant to tell her I love her when she found the net and that's what happened." Diani could hardly be more delighted too. "I'm happy because it didn't really go right for me against Nigeria. I guess I've kept my best till last."

With Diani boasting Malian roots, Karchouni hailing from Algerian stock and Romanelli possessing Italian forebears, there is also the sense of France's different communities coming together to seal their final place, six years after Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Co reached the Germany 2006 decider.

"On a human level, the 2006 World Cup is my favourite memory as a player, even if we lost the final," said Willy Sagnol, the general manager of France's youth teams and in Baku to back Les Bleuettes. "We were going through a tough time and the France team was being criticised, but we found a way of working and things we could build on and everything went extraordinarily."

A similar harmony behind closed doors is clearly working wonders again in Azerbaijan, and Ferrier's side have provided a huge boost to French football after recent disappointments, not least the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and UEFA EURO 2012. The players themselves remain focused on their objective, however.

"It's not a question of restoring pride to the France team's crest," said Karchouni. "For me, it's still just as beautiful and just as magical as ever. Our mission is to give everything and go all the way with the qualities we have. I'm sure that the key to success boils down to the notion of togetherness. And it's no coincidence that it says on the France shirt, 'Our differences unite us.'"

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