France at the World Cup: In the quarterfinals thanks to Giroud and Mbappé

It was obvious, that goal number 52, of course, because that’s where the game was played after all France, the world champion. When it fell, pride was evident on the face of Olivier Giroud, 36. The old centre-forward Giroud, often reviled, often laughed at, but all too often used, is now the sole record goalscorer for the French national team. Thierry Henry has scored 51 times. And Giroud has the opportunity to add a goal or two to his tally. His 1-0 win at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday night was just the start of an impressive 3-1 win over Poland in the round of 16. Now the quarter-finals follow, and who knows how far it can go for Les Bleus.

The French were loath to pick up where they left off in the preliminary round, but that was not to be expected. In the strange 0-1 draw against Tunisia on Wednesday, national coach Didier Deschamps had rebuilt almost the entire starting XI, from goalkeeper to center forward, who wants it again, who hasn’t (only FC Bayern defender Benjamin Pavard was not used in this game either). Nine new players on the field, so little came together, and in the end Antoine Griezmann’s supposed equalizer was still collected by the video referee after the end of the game. Instead, Deschamps’ point of reference was the impressive 2-1 win over Denmark, which was reflected in the identical formation, with the defensive duo Varane/Upamecano, the young Aurelien Tchouameni in the center and up front with the four-pronged Mbappé/Griezmann/Dembélé/Giroud.

France at the World Cup: artists on the ball: This spectacular side kick didn't count, but Olivier Giroud still scored a goal against Poland.

Artist on the ball: That spectacular side kick didn’t count, but Olivier Giroud still scored a goal against Poland.

(Photo: Richard Callis/Fotoarena/Imago)

How can you stop their offensive power? That had been the big question for the Polish coach Czeslaw Michniewicz, and he apparently opted for a slightly different tactic than in the last group game against Argentina (0-2), in which the Poland had pulled up an iron curtain of defenders’ legs, but that was of no use to them. This time they wanted to be part of the game themselves. And when the French threatened to get away from them, they held them by the arm or by the shirt. The referee Jesus Valenzuela from Venezuela ignored this for a long time or contented himself with persuasion. But robustness alone is not a strategy.

Giroud’s goal also cheered up two-goal Mbappé

So the realization that was bitter for Poland came quickly: One Kylian Mbappe asserts himself in his sprints even when he makes a stop at the ice cream parlor. And after half an hour of play, half a dozen good opportunities had come together for the French. The best: Ousmane Dembélé puts the goal in front of goal, Giroud slips over, but the ball hops just past the post (29th).

Would that end up being a hundred-touch-the-ball game where the opponent does score? It looked like that for a short time, namely in the 38th minute, when Piotr Zielinski and then Jakub Kaminski fired two shots at the French goal within seconds, but with luck they were blocked in each case. So it was also a relief for the French when Giroud, used by Mbappé, put the ball next to the right post to make it 1-0 (44th). And it apparently also inspired Giroud himself: At the beginning of the second half he scored with a spectacular side kick, but the whistle had previously been blown for a foul (58th).

The effect of the record goal on Mbappé was also amazing. The 23-year-old, who is always suspected of giving himself a bit more glamor than his colleagues, now dribbled a few balls instead of passing them to his colleagues. The lead for France remained narrow. But then Mbappé circled the ball twice under the crossbar of the Polish goal, first to 2-0 (74th), then to 3-0 (90 + 1st).

Robert Lewandowski finally missed a hand penalty, but was allowed to repeat the execution because the French had entered the penalty area too early. The second time he scored (90+9.). But the victory of the favorites remained, which now also means this: The Pole Lewandowski – captain, title collector, world footballer – remains uncrowned with the national team. However, he is not the only one since King Stanisław August had to abdicate in 1795.

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