AL KHOR, QATAR (AFP) – Olivier Giroud continued his magnificent World Cup by scoring France’s late winner in their quarter-final against England early yesterday and admitted that the holders’ battling performance in adversity evoked the spirit of their triumphant 2018 run.
France are now just two games away from becoming the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy after Giroud’s fourth goal of the tournament sunk an impressive England side in a titanic battle at Al Bayt Stadium.
The holders took the lead through Aurelien Tchouameni but were pegged back early in the second half and were on the ropes for long spells before Giroud headed in the decisive goal in the 78th minute to seal a 2-1 victory.
France had considerably less possession, half as many attempts on goal and got lucky late on as Harry Kane – having earlier scored from the spot – blazed an 84th-minute penalty over the bar.
And Giroud later said the game brought back memories of his team’s semi-final in Russia four years ago, when they edged out Belgium 1-0 in Saint-Petersburg before going on to beat Croatia and lift the trophy.
“This match reminds me of the Belgium game in 2018, even if the scenario is a bit different because England came back and believed in their chances and pushed forward,” Giroud said.
“We showed superb spirit and worked so hard for each other. It is the same spirit as in 2018 and I hope we go as far as possible because this group is capable of great things.”
Giroud was a non-scoring member of the 2018 team but at 36 he is enjoying a memorable tournament in Qatar having earlier overtaken Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time top scorer.
It is a far cry from Euro 2020, when he was relegated to the bench following Karim Benzema’s return to the international fold.
This time he has taken full advantage of Benzema’s injury just before the World Cup began to become a key player again, and France have put their disappointing European Championship – when they lost to Switzerland on penalties in the last 16 – firmly behind them.
Their performance in Qatar also contrasts starkly with the trend at recent World Cups, with Italy, Spain and Germany going out of the last three tournaments as holders in the first round.
“The recent record of the holders has been rather negative so we can be pleased at reversing that trend,” said coach Didier Deschamps, whose team will now be strongly fancied to beat Morocco in the last four.
If France do go all the way to the final in Doha on Sunday and win it, they will be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend the title.
“We are getting closer but now we have a very important next step.”