Both France and French striker Olivier Giroud are looking to create something special from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
For France, the 2018 World Cup champs are looking to become the first nation since Brazil in 1958 and 1962 to repeat as tournament winners. Only Brazil and Italy (1934, 1938) have won consecutive World Cup tournaments.
Can France join that exclusive list?
Despite a multitude of injuries that include N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema, Mike Maignan, Christopher Nkunku and Presnel Kimpembe, among others, Les Bleus launched their Qatar run in flashing style.
In their Group D opener against Australia on Tuesday, Les Bleus wasted no time looking like potential champions, finishing the contest with a convincing 4-1 victory. After conceding the first goal in the ninth minute, France scored two goals in quick succession in each half.
First, it was Adrien Rabiot in the 27th minute and Olivier Giroud in the 32nd to make it 2-1 at the end of the first half. Then in the second, a much more passive Australia side allowed France to dictate the action, leading to Kylian Mbappé’s 68th-minute header followed by Giroud’s brace in the 71st.
Giroud’s two goals tied him for first all-time in France’s record goalscoring list. Both Giroud and former star Thierry Henry have 50 goals, with the former seeking to break the record sometime in Qatar.
“On a collective level, I am very happy with these four goals and this start to the competition,” the 36-year-old said postgame. “[…] On a personal level, I could hardly have hoped for better. It’s a source of great pride, I don’t intend to stop there. I hope to continue in the competition so that I can help the team achieve our goal. Always taking game after game, getting stronger.”
Hugo Lloris, the 35-year-old first-choice French goalkeeper, lauded Giroud for stepping up in the starting role after Benzema’s thigh injury forced him to miss the tournament.
“I think Olivier has always been there for the France team,” Lloris said. “I think he has the merit of never having given up. It’s very exemplary on his part. Unfortunately, we lost Karim to injury and we were all very disappointed, Olivier first. We had to move on. And we know that we can count on everyone. We can count on Olivier.”
Along with Giroud, Mbappé, who played in the left wing/second striker role just behind Giroud, also delivered with a header and an assist after a breakout 2018 tournament.
Manager Didier Deschamps praised Mbappé’s ability to step up, be a leader and continue to improve at just 23 years old having had the experience of a World Cup four years ago.
“Kylian was already one of the best strikers in the world,” Deschamps said. “He is full of confidence. He exudes a lot of strength, serenity and I’ve been talking to him for a while. I knew he was going to be ready because it’s his competition. […] Score goals with his head, if he adds that, so much the better. He’s part of a collective and that’s important even if he has the ability to make differences. Having Kylian at this level is very important for my team.”
But the unfortunate news for France was that the injury hits kept coming. This time it was left back Lucas Hernandez, who went down with a leg injury that occurred right when Australia’s cross led to the opening goal. Hernandez was replaced by his brother, Theo, who logged an assist on Rabiot’s equalizer.
“I will find other solutions,” Deschamps said of Lucas’ injury.
Early reports suggest it may be an ACL injury for the 26-year-old Bayern Munich defender, but nothing is official yet.
With three points secured against Australia, France’s next game is its biggest test in Group D: Denmark. The Danish Dynamite have a darkhorse squad and should give Les Bleus their biggest challenge. A France win, though, would put the nation in pole position to top the group heading into the round of 16.