In order to rebuild on top of ruins, the services of architects, carpenters and bricklayers are usually called upon. France, forced to reconstruct their squad after recent mishaps at major international tournaments, have instead turned to a pair of Gunners to help restore past greatness to their national football team.
Outstanding in Arsenal colours this season, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny have developed into key players for Les Bleus, whose mission at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ will involve erasing the memory of their disappointing displays at South Africa 2010.
“We’ve gone through a rebuilding phase, because people still associate the team with Knysna [in South Africa] and the way in which we exited the tournament last time,” said Giroud to FIFA.com, referring to France’s group-stage exit and the image the team projected to fans around the world and back home.
“The French public hasn’t forgotten what happened, and we’re going to show them that we can keep our flag flying high during the World Cup.”
Indeed, Didier Deschamps’ charges have made it clear that their initial objective in South America will be to undo the damage done to the country’s reputation in 2010. “We don’t talk about the actual details of what happened last time,” stated the former Montpellier striker.
We can keep our flag flying high during the World Cup
“The majority of players weren’t in the squad, and we’d rather look to the future rather than the past. What we’ve achieved over the past few months has been extremely encouraging. There’s been a groundswell of support for our team, which has obviously stemmed from our run of good results and our qualification versus Ukraine,” he continued.
Koscielny, who played alongside Giroud at Ligue 2 side Tours in season 2008/09, did not take part in the return match of the play-off against the Ukrainians. Sent off during France’s 2-0 first-leg defeat in Kiev, the talented defender watched from the stands as his team-mates dug deep to triumph 3-0 and book a berth at Brazil 2014.
“It’s a fresh start,” said the Limousin-born World Cup debutant. “The team has been in good shape over the past few matches, both on and off the pitch. We need to keep playing in the same way and maintain the same mindset and mood, playing for each other. To get far in the tournament, we need to work together.”
Unfortunately, that quest will need to continue without two notable performers, Clement Grenier and Franck Ribery having withdrawn from the squad through injury. “Franck has had back problems for weeks, and hadn’t trained very much with us. It wasn’t a huge surprise,” explained Giroud, refusing to blow things out of proportion.
“We have to leave all that to one side; it’s already been difficult enough for him. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be with us, but we’ll do our best to ensure that he’s proud of our performances,” he added.
“It’s always difficult to lose team-mates to injury, but given that Franck was our best player, it was even tougher this time,” said Koscielny.
“He’s very important in the dressing room; he communicates well with everyone. His passion is crucial. But other players have come in and the atmosphere has remained very good, even though we still have to deal with those two absences. We now want to go as far as we can in their honour.”
It is not just behind the scenes that the loss of the Bayern Munich star will be felt; from a tactical point of view, his absence has compelled Deschamps to come up with alternative approaches, which he duly tested in recent warm-up matches.
“With Loic Remy, Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema, we’ve got numerous options up front,” pointed out Giroud, who scored a fine brace against Norway (4-0) and an expert half-volley against Jamaica (8-0).
“We have a good understanding and complementary skill-sets, which is a real bonus for the team. Having such variety going forward is definitely a plus point,” he said, describing an area in which Antoine Griezmann, Moussa Sissoko and Remy Cabella can also lend a hand.
Those attack-minded assets will be vital against a solid-looking Honduras side that constitutes the first hurdle that France must overcome. “We know it’ll be tricky, because they are tough and tackle hard,” said Koscielny. “But we’ve got a lot of different qualities. While we’re probably a more skilful team, we’re also capable of matching up with our opponents physically.”
With such solid foundations in place, France’s rebuilding process appears to be on the right path.