France scored six in the first half on the way to an emphatic 7-1 win over debutants New Caledonia in their Under-17 World Cup Group E opener in Guwahati on Sunday.
France, one of the tournament favourites, outclassed their opponents right from kick-off, taking an early lead through an own goal in the fifth minute. France managed 15 shots (12 on target) and enjoyed 79% possession in a highly one-sided first half. Amine Gouiri scored twice, while Claudio Gomes and Maxence Caqueret each scored one, before a Kiam Wanesse own goal made it 6-0 at the break. New Caledonia put up a better defensive performance in the second half and did get a historic consolation goal in the 90th minute through Sidri Wadenges. They were caught on the break a minute later, however, when Wilson Isidor rounded off an impressive victory for France.
France's head coach Lionel Rouxel lined up a 4-1-2-3, with Willem Geubbels and Yacine Adli starting on the flanks and Gouiri attacking through the middle. A Geubbels cross from the left intended for Gouiri was deflected into his own net by centre-back Bernard Iwa.
The impressive French right-back Vincent Collet kept running down the channel, and fed Adli, who then worked a 1-2 with attacking midfielder Maxence Caqueret and whipped a cross in for Gouiri. France led 2-0, just like that.
The captain Gomes then got his first goal of the World Cup in the 30th minute, fed by Gouiri after the latter sprung the offside trap comfortably. Three minutes on, Gouiri would get his second of the night, fed again from the right by Adli.
By this time, Adli dropped deeper, allowing Caqueret to play along the right, and Caqueret would benefit from Adli's assist off a cross from left-back Andy Pelmard to put France five ahead. They would get a sixth before half-time, when New Caledonia's other centre-back Kiam Wanesse put the ball into his net while trying to keep a cross away from Gouiri.
France could have scored a seventh when Geubbels was brought down by substitute Raoul Wenisso, but Caqueret's shot from the penalty spot was saved by goalkeeper Une Kecine.
New Caledonia held firmer in the second half, and to be fair, France took a lot of the pace off the game, replacing Adli and Gouiri with Lenny Pintor and Wilson Isidor, respectively. The debutants were rewarded for their perseverance, as defender Sidri Wadenges scored the first goal in any FIFA competition history for them in the last minute of regulation time.
Almost immediately after that, Isidor scored France's seventh, making this the joint-eighth highest margin of victory at the U-17 World Cup, and also the first 7-1 since Ghana beat Thailand by that margin in 1999.
It may have been a blip right at the end - Rouxel put it down "partly to fatigue, partly to lack of concentration with a six-goal lead" - but this French team looks like a well-oiled unit. They are comfortable on the ball, their movements invariably complement each other when dispossessed and most of them show great technique on controlling and shooting. Their coach also did well to take the main strikers off on the hour mark, thus denying Gouiri a chance to become the third Frenchman after Michael Debeve and Florent Sinama Pongolle to have struck an U-17 World Cup hat-trick. The standout, though, was Adli with his three assists.
"He played a very good game. He did something that others on the pitch can't do. This competition is a good one for him to showcase his skills, since he's with a big club like PSG. If he can be a good boy, a good player, with good mentality, he can go a long way," said Rouxel. "I always tell my boys they have to be serious and to give the opposition respect. In the second half, we were a little lacking in executing our plans. The real test is on Wednesday, when we face Japan."