France's friendly against Norway at the Stade de France on Tuesday was an interesting 90 minutes for Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud. He cut a frustrated figure in the first half, struggling to get involved in the action, while the delivery of balls into the box didn’t help him showcase what he is capable of as France’s No. 9.
Karim Benzema is set to start against Paraguay on Sunday, and despite Giroud’s two excellent goals in the second half against Norway, a positive performance from the Real Madrid striker would put him back in pole position for the starting spot when France take on Honduras on June 15.
Giroud may not play a huge part in Sunday’s game, but the performances of both will play a huge part in helping Didier Deschamps decide who will start in Brazil, and it is Giroud who has the most at stake.
During the first 45 minutes against Norway, there was some negative body language from Giroud that mirrored what we have seen in the Premier League for Arsenal from time to time. When the ball wasn’t played to him at the right time or in the right position, the arms went up in frustration, and he looked like a player who wanted to impress but wasn’t quite getting the service he craved.
However, Giroud’s second-half performance summed up exactly what the player is capable of. In the 51st minute he scored France’s second goal in the 4-0 win. The goal epitomised everything Giroud is about: His first-touch wasn’t perfect, but it was still knocked past his marker to allow him to unleash a wonderful left-foot finish into the top-corner.
The strike showcased what Giroud can do when he gets into the right position, but his first touch is one of the concerns that Arsenal fans have regarding the former Montpellier man.
Giroud would add a second later on when he skilfully guided Mathieu Valbuena’s cross past the Norwegian 'keeper. The angle was tight, but Giroud’s header was perfectly placed and was another example of the ability the striker has in his locker.
The two goals on Tuesday took Giroud's total for France up to seven goals in 27 games, but only two of those have come in competitive matches.
The problem that Didier Deschamps will find if he starts with Giroud as the lone striker is his inability to create his own chances. Giroud needs the support and ammunition from the midfield, and he gets frustrated when it doesn’t go his way.
On Tuesday, the support from Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann was excellent at times, the frustration came with the poor delivery from wide areas. The crosses from both Mathieu Debuchy and Patrice Evra didn’t quite find the striker in the best areas, leading to the looks of exasperation and isolation.
When Karim Benzema started against Ukraine and in the friendly against Netherlands, he looked as sharp and dangerous as he ever has for Les Bleus. It is clear that the international goal drought that he suffered is long behind him and that he is now firing on all cylinders.
The Real Madrid man is heading into Brazil in top form, and he will be hoping to finally break his duck at an international tournament.
Given an extended break after lifting the Champions League trophy against Atletico Madrid earlier in the month, Benzema will get the chance to lead the line against Paraguay. Any positive performance from the Real Madrid forward should see him go into the World Cup as Deschamps' preferred forward.
However, if Benzema is under the weather and doesn’t perform, Giroud will be able to build his case for a starting spot against Honduras. Overall, his performance on Tuesday night was positive and did his chances no harm, and he may yet get another chance against Jamaica.
At this moment in time, Benzema is in the driving seat, and a good performance against Paraguay would make it very difficult for Giroud to win that starting place against Honduras. More importantly for the Arsenal striker, this could be his last chance to lead the line for his country at a World Cup or any international tournament, for that matter.
Giroud will be 29 years old come the European Championships in 2016, and with the emergence of Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette and a handful of other young stars in the under-21 side, it could be that Giroud will never have as good a chance to be the No. 1 striker for his country.
Lacazette will feel aggrieved that he hasn’t made Deschamps 23-man squad, but his place has gone to Newcastle United’s Loic Remy, who did his chances no harm with a goal against Norway.
The former Marseille man is the same age as Giroud, and with increased exposure in the Premier League, Remy will be hopeful he can steal Giroud’s place going forward.
With Benzema set to start against Paraguay, all Giroud can hope for is that the former Lyon striker isn’t quite on top of his game. If that is the case, the Arsenal man needs to capitalise on any opportunity that comes his way.
There is a lot at stake for Giroud in these next few weeks—not just the World Cup, but his international future.
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