RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — France’s opening match at the World Cup against a Honduras side with a reputation for aggression promises to be a bruising encounter on Sunday.
And France striker Olivier Giroud thinks it will suit him perfectly.
After an encouraging season for Arsenal in the combative Premier League, Giroud is relishing the chance to show his physical strength with his back to goal, along with his heading ability and athleticism.
“It’s true that I like contact, physical impact. I’m not the kind of player who avoids it,” Giroud said Tuesday at France’s training camp. “I’ve tested myself against some pretty tough defenses in England and it’s a plus point for me that I play against such players every weekend. So I hope to use that experience against Honduras, because they won’t be pushovers.”
Giroud led the line on his own for most of the season for Arsenal, starting 36 of 38 matches, and often being on the receiving end of some heavy tackles from Premier League defenses.
“He’s used to that style of play in the Premier League. He’s used to taking blows and he’s given a few of them, as well,” Arsenal and France teammate Laurent Koscielny said. “Olivier’s full of confidence, he finished the season well for Arsenal and played well in the friendlies. The team is playing better as a whole and is combining a lot better with Olivier.”
Giroud could face Maynor Figueroa, who also plays in the Premier League for Hull.
“I’ve played against him before,” Giroud said. “I know him and let’s say he’s no angel. He’s a rugged player on the pitch, but I like that, and we know it’s going to be a hard match. I’m not scared of anyone.”
The striker thinks he has done enough in recent games to earn a starting spot against the Hondurans in their Group E opener, having scored three goals in France’s three World Cup warm-ups.
“Yes, it would disappointing (not to start), because I think I have played well in the friendlies,” Giroud said. “You have to respect the coach’s decisions, but let’s say it’s not keeping awake at night. The important thing is to be available for the team.”
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema was widely tipped to be France’s center forward at the World Cup, with Giroud as his backup, but winger Franck Ribery’s back injury changed all that. Ribery was ruled out of the tournament last Friday.
That forced coach Didier Deschamps into a reshuffle, with Benzema playing off Giroud in more of a roaming role, and they combined well in Sunday’s 8-0 thrashing of Jamaica, with Benzema scoring two goals and creating three, while Giroud scored one and made one.
Giroud puts that recent surge in form to the fact that his teammates are getting more used to his style of play.
“I’ve played a lot in the warm-up games and we’ve had more time in training compared to when we normally meet up,” he said. “There’s good cohesion in the team and you can see that on the pitch, particularly among the attacking players. I don’t know if it’s suddenly clicked, but I’m really enjoying myself on the pitch.”
Deschamps already knows his team to face Honduras.
“I’ve had it in mind for a while,” Deschamps said. “I hope nothing happens during the week, but I know how we’re going to play, yes.”
The only slight injury doubt is right back Mathieu Debuchy, who hurt his left leg against Jamaica. He was rested in Tuesday’s training session.
“It’s nothing serious, it’s more of a precaution to give him another 24 hours to recover,” Deschamps said.