Mauricio Pochettino has reluctantly lavished praise on former Arsenal and Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud after he became France’s all-time record goalscorer in the nation’s World Cup win over Poland.
Once North London rivals during Pochettino’s tenure as Tottenham manager, the Argentine put past bitterness to one side to wax lyrical about the history-making Frenchman, whose timely finish against Poland etched his name into the record books.
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The now Milan forward entered Qatar 2022 second only to Thierry Henry in Les Bleus‘ scoring charts, but after a brace against Australia — which drew him level — he has now surpassed Titi, and doing so on the grandest of all stages to help his nation to the quarter-finals.
It was a cagey first half between France and Poland in a last-16 clash that would determine who faces England or Senegal next week, but France ultimately found the breakthrough on the stroke of half-time, with Giroud breaching former Arsenal team-mate Wojciech Szczesny.
🇫🇷 leading scorer 100% complete
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 4, 2022
And it was yet another former Arsenal player, who has become synonymous with the type of finish Giroud produced in the game. As he was slipped in by Kylian Mbappe, the 36-year-old executed a perfect ‘Ozil chop’, a bounce-finish patented by his ex-colleague Mesut Ozil.
It led the ex-Arsenal and Real Madrid playmaker to comment online, tweeting on his official account: “Nice goal… who taught you that bro.” The caption was then followed by a series of emojis and the hashtag “YaGunnersYa” in relation to their time together at Arsenal.
— Mesut Özil (@M10) December 4, 2022
Whether inspired by Ozil’s signature finish, or just an instinctive move to outfox Szczesny, Giroud made history. And it went a long way to helping the reigning champions advance to the next round, with Mbappe putting the game beyond reach in the 74th minute, and then completing his brace in injury time.
During the break, when the score was 1-0 after Giroud’s finish, Pochettino couldn’t help but detail his adulation for an old enemy. In a joking manner, Pochettino, with a wry smile, told the BBC studio: “I hate Giroud.” Before adding: “As a centre-back you hate him, he’s a killer. He’s big, he’s clever, he has really good movement, he’s smart.
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“He’s capable of everything”
Rio Ferdinand echoed the assessment: “The big thing with him is his attitude. You have to have the right attitude.
“He’s had people say ‘you’re not good enough’. He’s not flashy like Mbappe with the skill and the pace, but he knows what he’s good at, and he executes it.
“He’s a killer, he’s deadly. He’s never fazed. He never loses confidence.”
Robert Lewandowski reminded everyone that there was another world-class striker on the pitch deep into second-half stoppage time after converting from the spot. Hugo Lloris saved his penalty, but was forced to retake with his foot at least a yard off the line. The Barca man executed the same stuttered run-up but with a different result. It proved just a consolation, with France through to the quarter-finals.