From Raymond Kopa to Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane to Thierry Henry, France has produced some of football’s all-time greats, but Olivier Giroud needs just one more goal for Les Bleus to tower over all of his compatriots.
The giant 1.93m tall centre-forward and 2018 World Cup winner equalled Henry’s record mark of 51 goals for the French national team by scoring twice in his country’s 4-1 win over Australia on Tuesday.
He had already long since left behind the likes of Platini, David Trezeguet, Jean-Pierre Papin and Just Fontaine, the striker who famously scored 13 times in one World Cup in 1958.
France’s oldest international goalscorer at the ripe old age of 36, Giroud has reached his tally in 115 appearances for his country, eight fewer than the number of caps obtained by Henry between 1997 and 2010.
“It is a source of pride, an honour,” Giroud said after his brace against Australia which saw him draw level with Henry as France began their defence of the World Cup.
“It makes you think about all the hard work I have put in to get here but also the superb teams I have played in.”
Now ready to go beyond Henry’s mark, he added: “Watch out ‘Titi’, I’m coming.”
Giroud’s performance against Australia has raised hopes that France can cope just fine in this World Cup without Karim Benzema, the Ballon d’Or winner who pulled out injured on the eve of the tournament.
After all they did just fine without Benzema four years ago in Russia, even if Giroud failed to score a single goal during the World Cup in Russia.
But there is a growing feeling that Didier Deschamps’ side might even be better off this time despite all the injuries in their squad, given the fruitful relationship that Giroud has developed of late with Kylian Mbappe.
– Late developer –
Playing alongside Mbappe in the French attack must make AC Milan striker Giroud realise just how far he has come since his days as a lower-league forward who never seemed destined for the very top.
Mbappe was a World Cup winner at the age of 19. At the same age Giroud — from the Alpine town of Chambery — had only made a handful of appearances in the French second division for Grenoble.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe is now hoping to win the greatest prize of them all for the second time while still aged just 23.
Giroud was 23 when he really started to make a name for himself in the professional game by finishing as Ligue 2’s top scorer with 21 goals for Tours.
Things accelerated from there, joining Montpellier and starring as they won the Ligue 1 title against all the odds in 2012, pipping a PSG side who had just been taken over by Qatar Sports Investments.
A move to the Premier League followed, with Giroud spending nine years in England, first with Arsenal and then Chelsea, before a switch to Serie A last year.
He won the Italian title at the first attempt with Milan and is now playing some of the best football of his career at a age when others are winding down towards retirement.
Giroud was first called up to the France squad by former coach Laurent Blanc in late 2011 and has gone on to become a fixture under Deschamps.
He is now at his third World Cup and his sixth major tournament.
Yet there was a spell late last year and earlier this year when, with Benzema back in the fold, Giroud was regularly left out of France squads and his international career seemed over.
Now very much back in Deschamps’ plans, he has scored five times in his last five appearances.
“Since I was recalled I have been determined to show that I am at 200 percent when playing for France,” he said.
“He is adored at the moment. All of France is delighted, so am I and so is Olivier,” said Deschamps this week of a player who if he scores against Denmark on Saturday will have no equal in France’s blue shirt, not even Henry.
Read all the Latest Sports News here