1st July 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
“My statistics speak for themselves. Several people have told me that I play better through adversity, but I don’t always want to have to be fighting against the mudslingers,” explained a vindicated Olivier Giroud after scoring in France’s opening game of the Euros.
That goal against Romania was remarkably his eighth goal in his previous eight matches for France, but by virtue of not finding the back of the net since, those mudslingers have returned.
Giroud’s just one of those players who’s constantly dividing opinion. On his day, he’s nigh on unplayable, but when he’s not firing, he’s incredibly infuriating. To his defence, however, the Arsenal forward is still an excellent footballer, albeit a vastly underapprecciated one.
Although he’s notched up one goal and one assist in the tournament so far, it’s unfair to solely judge him purely on statistics, for his contribution extends far beyond this metric. Qualities such as his intelligent movement across the frontline to create space for others, his magnificent hold up play and his intricate combination play in and around the box don’t easily translate into tangible statistics.
France’s pulsating 2-1 win over Ireland served as a brilliant example of why he’s such a valuable member of Didier Deschamps’ squad, even though he didn’t get on the scoresheet.
While many of his teammates struggled against Martin O’Neill’s physically imposing side, Giroud’s strength and power, combined with his never say die attitude and relentless appetite for the contest, saw him comfortably compete with the Irish in this regard.
He brought structure and balance to Les Bleus, who really struggled to implement their passing game in the first half. His capacity to hold onto the ball and win his aerial battles against the hulking physicality of his markers, Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh, ensured his team always had a viable outlet if they needed an outball and following goal kicks.
Upon combining the afore with the way he effectively knitted together so many passing chains with his slick passing, and this was a match where the 29-year-old parlayed power and finesse beautifully. The unmistakable role he played in Antoine Griezmann’s second goal provided a fantastic example of this. Here, after Adil Rami’s speculative long ball forward, Giroud rose ferociously to beat both of Ireland’s central defenders to win his header. His subsequent headed pass to Griezmann was nothing short of spectacular, as he showed amazing vision, body control and execution to deftly nod the ball down right into his colleagues path, despite being challenged by two men.
Crucially, his presence had the key byproduct of dragging Duffy towards the contest, which perfectly created the space for Griezmann to go on and score. Indeed, this was a brilliant way to cap off the move that gave France the lead. Moreover, it also suitably illustrated why he’s such a multifaceted forward and a real handful for any defensive unit.
“I had a lot of pressure on me and there was a lot of expectation. But I’m continuing my run of form and that’s good for me,” he said.
Although there’ll always be questions surrounding the former Montpellier star’s position in the starting lineup whenever he doesn’t score, there’s no doubting all his hard and often undervalued work is of huge benefit to Deschamps’ men. As he showed against Ireland, sometimes his grit, strength and durability are precisely what is needed in such hotly contested knockout matches.
Griezmann duly noted as much when speaking about Giroud post match, explaining: “He tires the defences, does a lot of work that goes unnoticed.”
With Iceland awaiting the French in the quarter finals, Giroud will be desperate to get himself back on the scoresheet, having not scored in his last three outings. After his encouraging display vs Ireland, he and his teammates will certainly be backing him to do just that and break his mini drought.
He might not be the most talented forward at the summer showpiece, but his qualities might just ensure he’s the difference maker France need to take them all the way to the title on home soil.
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