Raphael Varane is relishing returning to the stadium in which he made his professional debut – one that he has been ribbing one of his France team-mates about. The Real Madrid defender, who became Les Bleus’ youngest-ever captain two years ago, will wear the armband again on Tuesday against Côte d'Ivoire at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
It is the ground in which Varane, who was born in nearby Lille, made his bow for injury-ravaged Lens against Montpellier in 2010. Despite being just 17, he marked the in-form Olivier Giroud out of the game to inspire Les Sang et Or to a 2-0 victory.
“He says he doesn’t remember it at all,” Varane said, smiling. “But I remember it clearly, and I told him about it quite recently.”
France came from behind to eke out a 2-1 win over Sweden in Paris on Friday in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying. It means Varane can look forward to what will be “a very emotional” friendly in Lens safe in the knowledge Didier Deschamps’ side top of Group A, three points above the Netherlands and Sweden.
“It will involve a lot of emotions for me,” said the 34-times-capped centre-back. “It’s a return to my roots. I played in Lens from the age of nine to 18. It gives me great joy to come back here.”
France have participated in 14 World Cups, a total surpassed only by Brazil (20), Germany (18), Italy (18), Argentina (16) and Mexico (15). USA 1994 was the last one Les Bleus missed out on.
Côte d'Ivoire made their World Cup debut in 2006, but are now striving to qualify for a fourth straight edition. Les Éléphants are in pole position to claim Group C’s ticket to Russia 2018, two points clear of Morocco and Gabon.