In France’s second game in Group E, Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud justified his inclusion to Didier Deschamps with a goal and an assist against Switzerland in their dominating 5-2 victory on Friday evening.
The presence and style of the big No. 9 was too much for the Swiss defence to handle, and his performance and attitude is critical to how far France can go during this tournament.
With Karim Benzema’s exploits in the Champions League final ruling him out of two of France’s pre-World Cup warm-up games, the chance was there for Giroud to impress as Les Bleus No. 9.
After three goals in three games the expectation was that he would continue his role in the attack for the opening game against Honduras in Porto Alegre.
Deschamps made a huge call when he revealed his team selection. Giroud had been dropped for the exciting 23-year-old Antoine Griezmann, with Benzema taking over the central striking role.
For Deschamps and France, it worked to perfection; the movement and pace consistently broke down the stubborn CONCACAF side, and France had a confident 3-0 victory to open up their World Cup campaign.
Giroud did make a small cameo, coming on with 12 minutes to go and played his part in consolidating the victory, but it was after the match where he gave an insight into the harmony of this France squad.
"Yes, it was a disappointment, I will not say otherwise," he told L'Equipe, via Goal.com. "But my little case does not come before the group. I am disappointed, but I respect the choices of the manager."
Part of the reason that Samir Nasri wasn’t selected in Deschamps' 23-man squad was due to the Manchester City midfielder’s issues with not starting under the former Marseille coach.
Giroud played his card perfectly. Every player should be disappointed not to play in a World Cup match, especially after scoring in the warm-up games, but there is a huge difference between being upset and annoyed and being disappointed.
Expectation around the camp was that Deschamps would continue with the same XI for the match against Switzerland, but again the World Cup winner showed his managerial nous by making two surprise changes. The most important of which was to bring Giroud back in to the starting line-up.
Deschamps rewarded Giroud for his attitude and behaviour, and Giroud repaid Deschamps by spear-heading a very impressive attacking unit against the Swiss.
After 17 minutes in Salvador Friday, Giroud rose perfectly to meet Mathieu Valbuena’s corner and his header was beautifully dispatched into the far corner.
The Swiss defence had no answer to Giroud’s presence, and although Steve Von Bergen was unfortunate to connect with the end of the Frenchman’s boot, causing an early substitution, having five or six defenders wouldn’t have been enough to contain Giroud on Friday night.
Switzerland fell apart and it was quickly 2-0 through Blaise Matuidi. France launched a rapid counter-attack following a Swiss corner and Giroud showed just how versatile he could be in the French front line.
Raphael Varane played an adventurous ball down the left channel, and it wasn’t Benzema chasing on to it. Giroud had broken forward and the Arsenal man showed great pace to take the ball into the box. While running full pelt, he picked out Valbuena with a exquisite left-foot pass to make it 3-0.
France were rampant, and Giroud was playing his part perfectly. According to WhoScored, the centre-forward touched the ball 40 times during the match, two more than their man-of-the-match Benzema. Only Mamadou Sakho in the centre of defence won as many aerial duels as Giroud, and on a different day, he could have scored a hat-trick himself.
The trio of Giroud, Benzema and Valbuena works effortlessly together. With Giroud playing the role of target man, he allows both forward to play off him, and his presence and ability attracts defenders, creating opportunities for them to exploit the space.
There are not many forwards in European football who are better at bringing players into the game than Giroud, and with Benzema and Valbuena willing to link up and Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko and Paul Pogba willing to push on from midfield, it is a system that could take France deep into this tournament.
The 5-2 victory over Switzerland secures Les Bleus place in the round of 16. They will now hope to secure top spot with another impressive performance against Ecuador on Wednesday.
The winners of Group E will likely play Bosnia-Herzegovina or Nigeria in the next round, and if everything goes to plan, the quarter-final matchup should be against Germany.
From current evidence, this France side would have nothing to fear against Joachim Low's men, but it will be by far the toughest test this French side will have faced in their current guise.
However, if Giroud continues to play as the link man and the French players use it to their advantage, the sky is the limit for Deschamps and his band of merry men.