Olivier Giroud insists age is no barrier to improvement and France’s new record scorer is targeting “many more goals” in his country’s colours.
Striker Giroud, who turned 36 in September, pulled clear of Thierry Henry’s 51-goal national-team haul when he opened the scoring in a routine 3-1 Round of 16 victory over Poland on Sunday.
France meet England in a blockbuster quarter-final at Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday, with Giroud anticipating his team’s toughest test yet at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™against Gareth Southgate’s free-scoring team.
The AC Milan player was relieved to remove talk of the scoring record from the build-up to France’s biggest match since they defeated Croatia to win the tournament four years ago. Giroud struck twice in the opening victory over Australia to draw level with former top-scorer Henry on 51 goals and prompt rounds of speculation over when and where he would claim the record for himself.
Giroud hasn’t always been able to take the affection of the French public for granted and even after Russia 2018 his herculean effort leading the line was overlooked in some quarters, the focus instead on the champions’ centre-forward remaining goalless in the tournament and not managing one shot on target.
The scepticism around Giroud, the country’s fourth most capped player after 117 appearances in 11 years, is giving way to admiration for the way a player who began his career in the footballing boondocks with Grenoble and Tours has developed into a serial winner with elite clubs and key figure for coach Didier Deschamps’ well-oiled France team.
“You look at everything you’ve achieved up to that moment (record-breaking goal),” Giroud told FIFA. “I’ve been in the national squad for the past 11 years and had some incredible moments with the team, as well as some rather difficult moments.
“But the most important things are to be focused on your work, to have a constant desire to improve the qualities we possess as individuals, and always give your best for the team. And now it doesn’t matter what your role is in the team – the most important thing is to bring heart to the game.
“It’s a great privilege to be able to achieve this record in a World Cup, and especially to help this team go far in the competition. This 52nd goal means a lot to me, a lot of people were saying, ‘We wanted you to score [in matches following opening-game double against Australia]’. I didn’t have the opportunity to score against Denmark [2-1 group-stage win] and I didn’t play in the [final group] match against Tunisia.”
Giroud has talked of sharing a “natural and spontaneous” relationship with Kylian Mbappe, the French attacking whizz 13 years his junior. Mbappe, who keeps company with Pele as a teenager to score in a World Cup final following his strike against Croatia in Moscow, is once more electrifying global audiences with his performances on the biggest stage of them all.
Mbappe has five goals from three starts in Qatar. What’s more, he slipped the pass forwards for Giroud to direct a skilful finish beyond former Arsenal colleague Wojciech Szczesny – one of the tournament’s standout goalkeepers – for goal number 52.
“I got a good ball from Kylian in the box and took the shot the way I know how,” said Giroud. “All the better for me as well as for the team. It was a big relief and now, if I may say so, I’ve achieved this [record] and I still hope to score many more goals to help the team. But the most important thing is for the team to pull together as one.”
England are level with Portugal on 12 goals as the tournament’s joint-highest scorers and survived a sticky start against Senegal in the last-16 to run out convincing 3-0 winners. USA showed there’s a way to blunt manager Southgate’s team in a scoreless group match – but Giroud insists France are preparing for the free-flowing version of England inspiring belief on home shores that the country’s wait for a second World Cup triumph is poised to end after 56 years.
“It’s great to get to this stage of the competition and we don’t want it to end here,” added Giroud.
“We’re going to come up against England, who are also a contender to win this World Cup. It’s going to be a very big game. But we have our sights set on winning.”