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France: Billant Optimistic Despite Loss Of Vaty

10 July 2005
From Isabelle Rondeau, PA International, Paris

France coach Richard Billant remains confident his players can challenge the top teams at the U18 European Championship for Men despite the loss of centre Ludovic Vaty to injury.

The French travel to Serbia & Montenegro on July 9 for the event and take on Lithuania, Germany and Russia in the first phase.

Needing to finish in the top two to book their ticket to the second stage of the competition, Billant's men suffered a huge blow when they lost Vaty in training last Sunday.

Vaty was an Under-16 European champion last year and many considered him to be the best center at the tournament.

He (Vaty) is a talented player and there is no way we are going to play with his career
Richard Billant

His injury is not career-threatening but will cause him to miss out on the Championship.

Billant told PA International: "We were quite destabilised by it all.

"We also lost the match after leading the game throughout and Abdoulaye M'Baye and Nicolas Batum got slightly injured during the clash. But fortunately it was nothing serious.

"After that match we were not at our best mentally and physically but we proved we had the mental resources to fight back."

Indeed France fought hard to snatch a 67-62 win over Croatia on Monday and overcame Italy the next day 78-70.

"By beating both sides we restored our mental health," said Billant.

"It proved we can cope with moments of stress like that. We are on the right track."

Billant is convinced they have made the right choice in leaving the youngster at home for rehabilitation.

"We were extremely worried by Ludovic's injury because he was in great pain but further medical examinations revealed that the blow would not endanger his long-term career," said Billant.

"We chose to be wise and let him rest instead of asking him to come with us to Serbia & Montenegro.

"He is a talented player and there is no way we are going to play with his career."

Vaty was eventually replaced by Aaron Cel.

"Ludovic was a key element to the squad considering that we lack influence sometimes," Billant said.

"During our friendlies we have shown that we could challenge the best teams but we have weaknesses, too.

"Aaron will replace Ludovic even if he does not quite have the same profile.

But he is very technical."

France will play two preparation games against Serbia & Montenegro on Sunday and Monday before beginning their Euro campaign.

Billant has urged caution over his team's chances at the tournament but has also spoken with quiet confidence.

"All I want is to be careful," he added. "We will first try to go past the first round and qualify for the second phase.

"Then if we do that, we will feel far more liberated and confident and we might achieve great things.

"I am convinced we have what it takes to challenge the bigger teams but let's take one thing at a time."

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