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"Our intense spirit made the difference"

France credited their first-ever ESF European Under-19 Mixed Team Championship squash title to the "intense spirit" within their dazzling young squad in Bucharest.

On Sunday at the Aerosquash Baneasa, France became only the third nation (after Germany in 2006 and 2009 and Sweden in 1983) to defeat England in the competition's 41-year history. Indeed, England had won the previous 12 consecutive titles, but Les Bleuets summoned incredible reserves of strength and character to exact revenge after losing both Individual finals to the English last Tuesday.

Amir Khaled-Jousselin, who has only just turned 15, and the brilliant Lauren Balatayan, 16, were France's heroes. They are sure to have further influence on this competition - and surely on professional squash - in the next few years.

France team manager Malcolm Tullis said the tournament had been "an emotional rollercoaster" after the loss of the two Individual finals in five games last Tuesday. He said: "It was really hard to get the team back on track in the next two days but we fought it through. There was a lot of fatigue, they were exhausted."

But the night before the finals, Tullis and the coaching staff got the players together for a morale-boosting team talk. "We got energised," he said. "The spirit between the kids is amazing. They have known each other for the last year or so and they have built up something really intense and I think that's what made the difference. 

"The final maybe wasn't the best level of squash but the difference is the heart between the kids. That's what we talked about last night. We're really thrilled to make that happen for France. It's an incredible result for French squash. We've been waiting for this for the last 35 years. We are really thrilled to join the club with Sweden and Germany to be able to beat an English junior team."

Melvil Scianimanico finished runner-up to England's Jonah Bryant in five games in the Individual final and lost to him again in the second match of the Mixed Team final. This was his last junior tournament and he now graduates to the senior ranks. But Baltayan has another two years and Khaled-Jousselin has another three.

"Prospects are good," said team manager Tullis with a smile. "Amir and Lauren have a bright future. We hope we can make another big show next year. It's going to be even more difficult as the regulations show there will be two male and two female players from next year, so there's a big challenge for Team France. But it pushes everybody up and expectations are high. We'll be working towards making this happen again."

Tullis praised the tournament organisers from the Romanian Squash Federation, including George Constantinescu and Daniel Sima, for an "amazing job." He added: "Everything was done terrifically and they were always happy, smiling and helpful. This made a big difference to how we handled the championship. After a few days, we felt at home. That's the best compliment I can give to the organising team."

After handing out the trophy and medals, ESF President Thomas Troedsson said of the French team: "They've tried many times. I think this was the 11th try [in the final] and it's hard to beat England because they are always very strong in teams. But this year they managed to have a team of three good players, plus a couple of reserves as well. It's amazing for them now to be in this exclusive group of three countries who managed to beat England in a final and become the European Under-19 champions."

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