Football: France look to future

Lawrie Madden in Toulon sees success for the hosts at the Under- 21 tournament in Toulonx xx
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The Independent Online
THE overriding memory of the Toulon tournament, now in its 26th year, is the healthy state of French football.

Not only are the French Under-21s in the final of the tournament, but a passion for the game has engulfed the nation. Before each game young Frenchmen are playing football on the pitch in organised coaching sessions. Outside the ground local kids throw down makeshift jackets as goals and play impromptu games. Every available space is for football which is surprising considering they are in an area of France better known for its rugby.

If France have been one of the successes of the tournament with their players interchanging positions without affecting their rhythm, then Germany have to be one of the disappointments. If the strength of a country's future football is reflected in the Under-21s, then Germany's future does not appear to be bright. On their Toulon performances, it would appear that Germany, who have for so long had a rich crop of talent, are now finding the pool almost dry.

The big surprise of the tournament has been the performances of the Chinese team. Considered, in footballing terms to be a developing nation, they have surprised everyone and have shown that at this level they are not out of their depth. Do not be surprised if English scouts now put China on their list of places to visit. West Ham United have already spotted this new talent and will look at one emerging Chinese star at pre- season training.

Brazil have shown that the senior sides strengths of skill and flamboyance have been passeddown. Five of their players were only 18 to highlight their strength. Their biggest concern is not their individual talent, but their inability to bring it into a cohesive and disciplined unit. One memory of a piece of skill was when the centre forward, with his back towards goal, and apparently under severe pressure, flicked the ball over a defender with his back towards goal, turned round, met the ball and galloped off past the amazed Portuguese defender.

Argentina have shown they have a very good all-round game. Against England they needed to win to go through to the group and they set their stall out early on. In the first three minutes they made several robust challenges roughing up the English with their tackles from behind. It will not just be England who need to be wary of the tackle from behind in next month's World Cup. They then went on to show England how to break down a team whose aim was containment. The Argentinians, with their short, sharp and neat football constantly sliced open the England defence, and the result from early on was never really in doubt.

For England, it was a disappointing end to the tournament. Although lacking several recognised first team players, they found life difficult in Toulon. There were football scouts from all over the world and almost every Premier League club in England was represented. When the scouts go back to the club next week to report to their managers, there will not be many English players on top of their list of priorities. They will be looking in other parts of the world and not only at the traditional hot beds of talent.

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