France ’s bronze medal finish at the 12th Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup should not be seen like any lesser-known hockey nation that is out to surprise the hockey world. France looked every bit a side that was ready to give every side a run for their money. The manner in which Les Bleus stormed into the semifinal stage left no one in doubt that they have the ammunition to go the distance. Their semifinal match was a one bad day in office, where they were outduelled by eventual champions Argentina in a shootout. Interestingly, the French outfit did not qualify for the 2016 Junior World Cup – how can one forget how they wowed all and sundry, entering the final of the 2013 Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup at New Delhi, where they were pipped 2-5 by Germany in the title tilt. Along the great tourney journey France had beaten the likes of Spain, Belgium and Malaysia.
The exploits of Les Bleus at the 12th Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup only underpin how France is on the cusp of emerging as a potent hockey nation. Hockey in France is on the upswing and can be attributed to the behind-the-scenes efforts undertaken by the France Hockey Federation over the last four-five years. The France senior team have been churning out performances that have made other hockey-playing nations, even the top-ranked nations sit up and take notice of them.
The French national team made rapid strides under coach Jeroen Delmee – the celebrated Dutch two-time Olympian, who has been associated with Les Bleus since 2017. Under Delmee (who recently took charge as Netherlands men’s team coach), Les Bleus has been turning in power-packed performances at major tournaments. It was under Jeroen Delmee that France produced an inspiring showing at the 2018 World Cup at Bhubaneshwar. Pitted in a tough Pool A Les Bleus played out a 1-1 draw against Spain, got the better of Argentina 5-3 and only narrowly lost to New Zealand 1-2 and went on to finish 8th – a creditable finish for a side that was playing in the World Cup after a hiatus of 28 years – interestingly, France’s best-ever showing at the World Cup came at the 1990 edition and the inaugural edition at Barcelona in 1971 when they finished 7th on both occasions. Delmee guided France to an impressive run at the 2021 EuroHockey Championship held at Amstelveen, where they put up a blockbuster performance against formidable Germany and even lapped up a 5-2 lead before going down 5-6 in a match, where Germany scored the winner with just four seconds remaining. The pugnacity of the French side can be gauged from the manner in which they clawed their way back after trailing Spain 0-2 to win the match 3-2 and in the process qualified for the Euro Qualifiers held at Cardiff, Wales where they lost to Wales 1-2 in the final but they alongside Wales sealed their berths for 2023 World Cup slated to be held in India.
As many as five members of the France Junior Men’s World Cup side have already played for the senior team. The likes of skipper Timothée Clément, Mattéo Desgouillons, Antonin Igau, Corentin Sellier, and Benjamin Marqué represented the France senior team at the 2021 EuroHockey Championship in Amstelveen. The substantial exposure gained from playing alongside teams like the Netherlands, Germany, Spain must have given them more confidence and self-belief to bring their A game in Bhubaneshwar.
With the 2024 Olympics to be held in Paris, France with precocious talents such as Timothée Clément, Corentin Sellier among others have the right mix to make a statement in the marquee event in their own backyard.