Despite helping France reach the European Championship final, striker Olivier Giroud finds himself once again fighting for his place in the national side.
His position has come under serious threat from Kevin Gameiro, and coach Didier Deschamps must choose between them to play alongside Antoine Griezmann in Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden.
Gameiro appears to be the favorite to start, but Giroud’s physicality and heading ability could prove useful against a robust Sweden side level with France in Group A.
“Olivier and Kevin have different styles. Olivier is more of a link player, Kevin is more about speed and making runs,” Deschamps said. “Both are very effective. I can use one at the start and one can come on during the match, depending on the opposition.”
Giroud scored three goals at Euro 2016, forging a decent partnership with Griezmann, the competition’s top scorer with six. But he has lost his place in the Arsenal side to Chile striker Alexis Sanchez, while Gameiro is thriving at club level alongside Griezmann at Atletico Madrid.
Although Giroud started France’s first match in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, he missed two clear chances in a 0-0 draw at Belarus.
Gameiro replaced him in a 4-1 win at home against Bulgaria and a 1-0 win at the Netherlands. He scored twice against Bulgaria, with his second goal set up by Griezmann. Their partnership is progressing well at Atletico, where they have 13 goals between them this season.
However, Giroud also has found some form recently for Arsenal.
He came off the bench to score twice in quick succession in a 4-1 win at Sunderland and followed that up with a goal in the Champions League. But he was back on the bench again for the match against Tottenham last weekend, with Sanchez starting.
“He’s not at 100 percent, he knows it and I know it,” Deschamps said Thursday. “But I know what Olivier can do, and Kevin, too. All of this plays a part in my thinking.”
It is a familiar situation for Giroud.
With France, he was often second choice behind Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, and before facing competition from Sanchez at Arsenal, he was battling Theo Walcott for the center forward’s jersey.
“That’s the story of my career: I’ve always had to fight to keep my place,” Giroud said in a recent interview with sports daily L’Equipe. “But I have experience and good matches that speak in my favor.”
The 30-year-old Giroud has 21 goals in 57 games for France, while the 29-year-old Gameiro has a more modest three in 11. But because Gameiro is playing regularly with Griezmann in a dangerous-looking partnership, Giroud fears that gives his teammate the edge.
“I would be lying if I said the opposite,” Giroud said. “But that’s not everything. I also showed that I could play well alongside Antoine at the Euro.”
The muscular striker set up Griezmann for the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Ireland that sent France through to the quarterfinals at Euro 2016, showing great awareness to cushion a header perfectly into this path for the nippy forward to run onto.
The international careers of Giroud and Gameiro appear somewhat fused.
Giroud’s first appearance for France saw him come on as a substitute, replacing Gameiro in a 1-0 win against the United States five years ago.
It inadvertently became a transitional moment, with Gameiro drifting out of the France team for five years until his recent return.
“I’m happy for Kevin, because he bust a gut to get back,” Giroud said. “But that doesn’t mean you have to start to question everything that went before. I’ve scored 11 goals in my last 15 games with the national team.”