When star France striker Karim Benzema was dominated out of the 2022 World Cup simply days earlier than the match started due to a thigh damage, it was straightforward to check how his absence would harm the possibilities of an already injury-ravaged France squad.
In spite of everything, few groups may stand up to the lack of the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and one of many three greatest strikers on the earth. However this can be a France crew that is likely one of the deepest worldwide squads in current reminiscence. The person in line to turn into the nation’s all-time main scorer was poised to take Benzema’s place. And France may truly be a greater crew with out Benzema on the sphere.
Now 36, Olivier Giroud isn’t going to make anybody’s rankings of one of the best strikers on the earth, until that record is fairly prolonged. After spending a lot of the 2010s at Arsenal and Chelsea, he’s now at AC Milan, the place he has scored 5 targets in 13 video games. Since he moved from Montpellier to Arsenal in 2012, he has by no means scored greater than 16 targets in a season. And till he moved to AC Milan forward of the 2021-22 season, he hadn’t began greater than 11 video games in a season since 2015-16.
As pacey strikers who may play anyplace up entrance took over fashionable soccer, Giroud turned a little bit of a relic in his remaining years within the Premier League. Nobody has ever mistaken him for one of many quickest gamers on the earth. As an alternative, he’s nice at holding up play in the midst of the ultimate third and a relentless risk on crosses contained in the penalty field.
These traits have made him crucial to France’s current success, even when Giroud’s significance to the nationwide crew was borne extra out of necessity than the rest.
The 2022 World Cup was set to be Benzema’s first since 2014. He returned to the nationwide crew in 2021 forward of the delayed Euros after a six-year absence for conspiring to blackmail former French teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a intercourse tape. Benzema was discovered responsible of the cost a 12 months in the past and handed a one-year suspended sentence.
With Benzema out of the nationwide crew image after the crew’s 2014 World Cup quarterfinal loss, Giroud was the crew’s predominant striker, even when he wasn’t getting many video games on the membership degree. Giroud performed in 91 matches for France from 2014-21 and have become one of the vital proficient French gamers in historical past over that point, with 49 targets.
His presence at heart ahead has coincided — and contributed — to the emergence of Kylian Mbappé. As Mbappé turned the most effective younger forwards within the recreation, Giroud was the person he teamed with on the worldwide degree. The 2 gamers have developed a transparent bond on the sphere — one thing that may be seen of their pleasure when both scores a aim.
“There’s an excellent complicity between them,” France assistant coach Man Stephan mentioned earlier within the World Cup. “This complicity could be robust, very, very robust or much less robust. On the minute, it’s very current. Kylian mentioned additionally that he likes to have a pivot participant in entrance to precise himself, and it’s the state of affairs with Olivier Giroud … the 2 gamers get on very properly.”
With Benzema out of the image, Giroud began all seven video games as France gained the 2018 World Cup. He performed an integral a part of that title run, although — maybe mockingly, given his report as a aim scorer — he didn’t rating in any respect throughout that World Cup and had only one help.
Whereas the dearth of targets and assists didn’t inform the entire story of Giroud’s contributions 4 years in the past, in addition they made some French followers trepidatious within the aftermath of Benzema’s damage. The reigning Ballon d’Or winner was the crew’s third projected starter dominated out earlier than the World Cup attributable to damage and had scored 4 targets in 4 video games at Euro 2020. He supplied the targets that Giroud didn’t on the 2018 World Cup, despite the fact that France was eradicated within the Spherical of 16 a summer season in the past.
After not scoring in 582 minutes over 4 years in the past and failing to attain in two Euro 2020 appearances, Giroud was scoreless for simply 31 minutes on the 2022 World Cup. He began France’s first recreation of the match in opposition to Australia and scored the crew’s second aim of the sport. He then added one other within the second half together with his head to tie Thierry Henry for probably the most males’s nationwide crew targets ever.
“He nonetheless has a powerful character. I discover that he strikes lots on the pitch, very cell,” Stephan mentioned when requested concerning the variations between Giroud in 2018 and 2022. “And I discover him a bit extra intelligent.”
Giroud broke Henry’s report late within the first half in opposition to Poland within the Spherical of 16 after which supplied the winner within the quarterfinal in opposition to England by beating Harry Maguire to a nook kick and heading it previous Jordan Pickford late within the second half.
Whereas Giroud went scoreless and was subbed off in France’s semifinal win in opposition to Morocco on Wednesday, his efficiency on this World Cup has made it simpler for France and coach Didier Deschamps to keep away from the subject of a possible Benzema return for Sunday’s recreation. Benzema has been coaching with Actual Madrid and could possibly be match sufficient for the ultimate.
When requested about Benzema presumably being obtainable Sunday after the victory over Morocco, Deschamps mentioned merely, “I don’t actually wish to reply that query. Subsequent query. I do apologize.”
If Giroud had once more gone scoreless this World Cup, the thought of Benzema beginning the sport could possibly be an intriguing one. Nevertheless it at present appears foolish to entertain the thought of something greater than a late-game cameo.
And if France turns into the primary crew since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back World Cups, it gained’t appear foolish in any respect to suppose France is healthier with Giroud up entrance.