Let’s not pull any punches here: against the power of Paul Pogba, the pace of Kylian Mbappe, and the precision of Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud will always look distinctively average. An Arsenal has-been rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s greatest talents, the forward makes for an odd sight at the apex of Didier Deschamp’s star-studded side.
But, in so many ways, his inclusion today made perfect sense for a team struggling to iron out its imperfections. Stepping in for Ousmane Dembele, the 31-year-old offered something that only a man of his age can possess: experience and know-how on the biggest of stages.
Recognising this was his moment to make his point, Giroud stepped up in a manner unique to him. Typically industrious and selfless, the forward brought an early cohesion to this French side that had been missing in the laboured 2-1 win over Australia.
After just nine minutes it was clear that his height and physical presence would bring an extra dimension to France’s forward play as he wrestled with the Peruvian defence to keep hold of possession. Coming up against Christian Ramos on the edge of the box, Giroud asserted himself in a show of strength that is rarely seen by his flashy forward teammates.
It was his link-up play that made the real difference, though. Around the 25-minute mark, Giroud used his height to his advantage as he rose above his opposite man to nod back a high ball into the path of Griezmann who, positioned on the edge of the Peruvian box, drilled a shot into the hands of Pedro Gallese. It was a moment that summarised Giroud’s true worth to this team. As that all-important centre peg in France’s front line, so much of their play was channelled through the forward, with Griezmann in particular benefiting from his presence.
Giroud was at it again moments before the break when, surrounded by two Peruvian defenders this time, the Arsenal man held up play, spun, and released possession to Griezmann ahead of him. Nothing came of the movement but it was yet another reminder of Grioud’s ability to act as that go-between for this French side.
It had been a different story on the 34-minute mark. Having met Pogba’s reverse pass into the Peruvian box, Giroud’s deflected shot arced up and over Gallese before falling favourably to an unmarked Mbappe. From two yards out, the teenager did the rest to put France ahead. Here, though, it was Giroud’s movement and vision which have proved vital in finally cracking open Peru, with Mbappe adding the finishing touch.
Despite Giroud’s inclusion today, and the change in style he brought, France still remained unable to shake the lethargy that intermittently creeps into their game. After putting their foot on the pedal in the wake of Mbappe’s goal, the French relapsed throughout the second half as they struggled to dominate the match as they had. It allowed the Peruvians back into the game and raised further questions of what Deschamps must do to get the best of his players.
But as Pogba, Griezmann and Mbappe struggled for consistency and rhythm, there was at least one constant in the form of Olivier Giroud. While his teammates chase perfection, the Arsenal man remains refreshing in his commitment to the basics. For all the talk made of France’s ‘champagne’ football, Giroud’s bitter-coloured approach offers a viable alternative. Maybe it’s time his teammates took note.
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