Football News

“Underrated” Olivier Giroud banishes Russian blues to equal Thierry Henry’s France record

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:05, 22 November 2022 | Updated: 10:19, 24 November 2022

Olivier Giroud scored twice to become France’s joint-top goalscorer as he helped Les Bleus secure a come-from-behind win over Australia in their World Cup opener.

In the build up to the game, and the tournament, a lot of the focus was on France and how they would deal with the World Cup curse. In each of the past three tournaments, the holders have bowed out at the group stage, with Germany, Spain and Italy all falling at the first hurdle while being world champions.

France themselves also had a terrible defence of their trophy the last time they won the World Cup, exiting in 2002 at the group stage — Brazil are the only holders since 2002 not to be knocked out after three matches. Les Bleus haven’t had the best warm up for the World Cup either, with so many big names out injured including midfield duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Then, on the eve of the tournament the biggest blow of them all came as 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benezma had to pull out of the squad through injury.

Didier Deschamps opted against calling up a replacement, with Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe among those most likely to start through the middle. Against Australia, Mbappe and Griezmann started as a winger and No.10 respectively but did grow into more fluid roles behind the No.9 Giroud.

But France started really slowly and fears of the curse will have worsened when Craig Goodwin opened the scoring inside 10 minutes, getting onto the end of Mathew Leckie’s cross with Lucas Hernandez injured in the build up. Lucas Hernandez was replaced by his brother Theo, who set up Adrien Rabiot for the equaliser, and then it was the Giroud show.

Again Rabiot was involved, this time turning the ball over high up the pitch and linking up with Mbappe before passing to Giroud who had the simple task of converting. And convert he did, for the 50th time in a France shirt and the fifth occasion at a major tournament. But when the ball fell to Giroud there may have been some part of him that remembered Russia in 2018.

Although France as a nation were celebrating their second World Cup win in Russia, for Giroud it was a tournament in which he struggled on a personal level. While being an important part of France’s build up, allowing the likes of Mbappe and Griezmann to be more fluid in their movement, strikers are judged on goals and Giroud had none. In fact, he didn’t even manage a shot on target from his 13 attempts.

Between the two World Cups, Giroud added another 18 goals to his tally for France including six in qualifying for Euro 2020 — where he struck another blank, though this time he did only play 50 minutes as Benzema was back in the squad. But Giroud put all that behind him in Qatar, also becoming the oldest French player to score at the World Cup (36 years and 53 days), a record previously held by Zinedine Zidane when he found the net in the 2006 final against Italy, aged 34 years and 16 days.

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Mbappe scored a third for France before Giroud got his second, drawing him level with Thierry Henry as Les Bleus‘ all-time top goalscorer on 51. He was robbed of the chance for the hat-trick and the outright record as Deschamps brought him off to be rested, but Giroud will certainly be happy with his two shots on target (and two goals) from five efforts.

The AC Milan man will now have the record in his sights when France play Denmark on Saturday, and former Chelsea and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba believes Giroud doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

“I think he’s underrated,” he told BBC.

“He’s a different player compared to Thierry Henry, who was more explosive. But he won the league in Italy, he won the league in France as well. When he plays, nobody really speaks about him but he’s scoring his goals.”

“I know Benzema is an incredible player, but he (Giroud) puts a shift in,” the Premier League’s all-time top goalscorer Alan Shearer added.

“What he does is, he creates the space for other people and he deserves that. What an international career. Unbelievable.”

What a difference four years makes.