As France targets back-to-back World Cups, is Olivier Giroud the man to unlock the team’s true potential?

When France’s star striker Karim Benzema was ruled out of the 2022 World Cup just days before the tournament began due to a thigh injury, it was all too easy to imagine how his absence would hurt a team’s chances of France already ravaged by injuries.

After all, there are few teams that can bear the loss of the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and one of the three best strikers in the world. But this is a team from France that is one of the deepest international teams in recent memory. The man in line to become the country’s all-time top scorer was set to take Benzema’s place. And France can be a better team without Benzema on the pitch.

Thirty-six-year-old Olivier Giroud is not going to be ranked among the best forwards in the world right now, unless the list is long enough. After spending much of the 2010s at Arsenal and Chelsea, he is now at AC Milan, where he has scored five goals in 13 games. Since he moved from Montpellier to Arsenal in 2012, he has never scored more than 16 goals in a single season. And until he moved to AC Milan ahead of the 2021-22 season, he hadn’t started more than 11 games in a season since 2015-16.

As speedy forwards who could play anywhere up front took over modern football, Giroud had become something of a relic in his later years in the Premier League. No one has ever mistaken Giroud for one of the fastest players in the world. Instead, he is excellent at slowing play down in the middle of the final third and a constant threat on crosses inside the penalty area.

Those traits have made him indispensable to France’s recent success, even if Giroud’s importance to the national team stemmed more from necessity than anything else.

AL KHOR, QATAR - DECEMBER 14: Olivier Giroud of France looks on during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 semi-final match between France and Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium on December 14, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.  (Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Olivier Giroud of France looks on during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 semi-final match between France and Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium on December 14, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. (Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

The 2022 World Cup was to be Benzema’s first since 2014. He returned to the national team in 2021 ahead of the delayed Euros after a six-year absence for conspiring to blackmail former French teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape. Benzema was found guilty of the charge a year ago and received a one-year suspended sentence.

With Benzema out of the national team picture after the team’s loss in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals, Giroud was the team’s main striker, even if he wasn’t playing many games at club level. Giroud played in 91 matches for France between 2014 and 2021 and became one of the most proficient French players ever during that time period with 49 goals.

His presence as a center forward has coincided with, and contributed to, the emergence of Kylian Mbappe. As Mbappé developed into one of the best young forwards in football, Giroud was the man he teamed with internationally. The two players have developed a clear bond on the pitch, something that can be seen in their enthusiasm when either one scores a goal.

“There is a very good complicity between them,” France assistant coach Guy Stephan said earlier in the World Cup. “This complicity can be strong, very very strong or less strong. At the moment, it is very present. Kylian also said that he likes to have a pivotal player in front to express himself, and it’s the situation with Olivier Giroud…the two players get along very well.”

With Benzema out of the picture, Giroud started all seven games as France won the 2018 World Cup. He played an integral part of that title race, although, perhaps ironically given his goalscoring record, he didn’t score at all during that World Cup and only had one assist.

While the lack of goals and assists didn’t tell the whole story of Giroud’s contributions four years ago, it also made some French fans uneasy after Benzema’s injury. The reigning Ballon d’Or winner was the third projected starter for the team ruled out before the World Cup due to injury and had scored four goals in four games at Euro 2020. He had scored the goals Giroud missed in the World Cup. World of 2018 even though France was eliminated in the round of 16 a summer ago.

After failing to score in 582 minutes more than four years ago and failing to score in two appearances at Euro 2020, Giroud did not score for just 31 minutes at the 2022 World Cup. He started France’s tournament opener against Australia and scored the team’s second goal of the game. He then added another in the second half with a header to tie Thierry Henry for the most goals for the men’s team in history.

“He still has a strong character, I find that he moves a lot on the pitch, very mobile,” Stephan said when asked about the differences between Giroud in 2018 and 2022. “And I find him a bit more intelligent.

Giroud broke Henry’s record late in the first half against Poland in the round of 16 and then provided the winning goal in the quarter-final against England by beating Harry Maguire from a corner and past Jordan Pickford to the end of the second half.

Although Giroud did not score and was substituted in France’s semi-final win against Morocco on Wednesday, his performance at this World Cup has made it easier for France and coach Didier Deschamps to avoid the subject of a possible return of Benzema for Sunday’s game. . Benzema has been training with Real Madrid and could be fit enough for the final.

Asked about the possibility of Benzema being available on Sunday after the win over Morocco, Deschamps said simply: “I really don’t want to answer that question. Next question. I apologize.”

Had Giroud gone goalless again at this World Cup, the idea of ​​Benzema starting the game might be intriguing. But these days it seems silly to entertain the idea of ​​anything more than a belated cameo for Benzema.

And if France becomes the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back World Cups, it won’t seem silly to think that France is better with Giroud at the helm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *