Why Karim Benzema’s absence could improve France’s World Cup chances



And yet Giroud has remained the great constant of Deschamps’ long reign, winning a century of caps in his tenure alone, scoring 48 of his 49 France goals for the man who captained a team where Guivarc’h was preferred to the flashier talents of Henry and David Trezeguet. Deschamps has reasons to appreciate strikers who can provide much else but not goals.  

France started the 2018 World Cup with Giroud on the bench and swiftly concluded they needed a focal point to their attack. Now, such is the wealth of talent at their disposal, there could have been a more fashionable alternative to him again. Except that Christopher Nkunku, scorer of 52 goals in the last 15 months for RB Leipzig, was injured even before Benzema was ruled out. There is still Ousmane Dembele, one of the most expensive footballers in history, but he only has four goals in international football. Dembele feels a case of unfulfilled potential whereas Giroud has exceeded his – at 23, the age Mbappe is now and at which Dembele reached in his third season at Barcelona, he was still a Ligue 2 player.

Now he is in the autumn of his career and France may sense an auspicious parallel. Germany won the 2014 World Cup with a 36-year-old target man, who had overhauled more garlanded talents to become their record scorer. That said, Miroslav Klose is also the World Cup’s record scorer and has proved far more prolific on this stage than Giroud has.

A common denominator between Joachim Low’s German champions and the two victorious French sides is that they were the best all-round side in the tournament, not the one with the finest centre-forward. In 1998, as in 2018, France were excellent in defence and midfield and possessed other attacking weapons in deeper or wider positions.

Olivier Giroud (left) could step up in Benzema’s absence, as he did in 2018

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Now Deschamps has been stripped of his premier midfielders, with Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante also injured. One thought was that, while France have scarcely been prolific of late and only scored five goals in six Nations League games, they might compensate for deficiencies elsewhere with their three musketeers of Benzema, Mbappe and Griezmann.

But three have become two. Benzema, a first-time winner at 34 and a player who spent his peak years sacrificing himself so Cristiano Ronaldo could score more goals, was always an unlikely holder of the Ballon d’Or. Now, for the first time since England’s failure to qualify meant Kevin Keegan spent the summer of 1978 thousands of miles from the action in Argentina, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner will not play in the World Cup. And Giroud, the ultimate team man who is rarely recognised by individual awards, may have to make up for the absence of the premier footballer of 2022.

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