France's hopes rest on Giroud, says Richard Buxton
No so productive for Arsenal, but he's now scoring for Les Bleus. Will his form last?
EURO 2016 FRIENDLY
(Olivier Giroud 8, 35, Laurent Koscielny 39)
Amid the chaos of France's Euro 2016 preparations, Didier Deschamps has finally found a much-needed distraction.
The explosive fallout of his decision to omit Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema from Les Bleus' squad refuses to go away ahead of their quest to record a third major triumph on home soil.
But, in the prelude to the Finals, another polarising figure is deflecting the focus.
Olivier Giroud has become the designated focal point and, notably, scapegoat in the wake of Benzema's high-profile exclusion.
After scoring a brace in a routine 3-0 friendly win over Scotland yesterday morning (Singapore time), however, the Arsenal forward has the potential to be transformed from an inadvertent sinner into an unlikely saint for the tournament's hosts.
Seven strikes and two assists in his last five international outings belie a season where Giroud recorded just 12 English Premier League goals for the Gunners in a largely underwhelming season - yet the 29-year-old continues to defy his critics.
An effortless back-heeled finish as he met a Bacary Sagna cross at the near post was an opening strike which deserved a standing ovation in its own right, as France put the perennially poor relation of the international game comprehensively to the sword.
Arsene Wenger could be forgiven for wondering if he, too, may have jumped the gun a little when reserving his personal judgment.
The uncharacteristic decision to dip into the transfer market with a move for Jamie Vardy appears somewhat misguided when Frenchman already in his ranks, rather than the one he covets, is capable of such scintillating form in front of goal.
And therein lies the problem.
Gambling on the Leicester City talisman to revive Arsenal's EPL fortunes may be a move of sheer short-termism that deviates from the club's time-honoured business model on varying levels, but it still offers a stronger guarantee of success.
A player who continues to be a relative stranger to consistency, Giroud has found little sanctuary on the international stage, in spite of recording prolific numbers.
That denigration has stemmed largely from factors outside of his personal control.
Supporters perceive him as an undeserving beneficiary of a place in Deschamps' final 23-man squad at the expense of Benzema, who faces allegations that he was involved in a plot to blackmail international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
Jeered against Cameroon last Monday, such has been the ill feeling towards Giroud that one of leaders of France's previous revolt at a major tournament has been forced to moonlight as an impromptu cheerleader.
Patrice Evra cast off the upstart image that plagued him at the 2010 World Cup to actively implore the home crowd inside Metz's Stade Saint-Symphorien to pay homage to his former adversary after he doubled the advantage against Scotland.
Just as with their watershed moment in South Africa six years ago, Les Bleus possess all the vital ingredients for another tilt at glory in a major international tournament.
It all unravelled from within as quickly as those seeds of promise had sprung.
Giroud, similarly, has often been conspicuous by his absence on the biggest stage.
Flanked by Antoine Griezmann and Anthony Martial, both coming off the back of landmark campaigns with Atletico Madrid and Manchester United respectively, Giroud will not have a better opportunity to finally make his mark.
Should he disappear once more, France's Euro 2016 hopes may evaporate with it.
OTHER FRIENDLY RESULTS
- Germany 2 Hungary 0
- Croatia 10 San Marino 0
- Austria 0 Holland 2
- Slovakia 0 Northern Ireland 0
BY THE NUMBERS
Olivier Giroud has scored seven goals in France's last seven outings.
Les Bleus have also won nine of 10 games going back to September.
France have scored 13 times in four matches this year.
When a player is in difficulty, his teammates are all with him. He was not so much in difficulty, but he was being heckled from outside. I have confidence in him and so do his teammates.
— France coach Didier Deschamps