Enter Olivier Giroud, stage center.
After an uneven performance that steadied after the introduction of the Chelsea striker as he contributed to the play that led to the winning goal, Giroud is expected to lead the line Thursday when France look to take a large step towards the knockout round of the World Cup as it faces Peru.
Since his international debut in 2011, Giroud has been a lightning rod for everything right or wrong about Les Bleus. A throwback No. 9 and target forward, Giroud has 31 goals for France, which is tied for fourth on the all-time list with Zinedine Zidane despite playing in 35 fewer matches than Zizou.
He made an instant impact in France’s 2-1 victory over Australia after his 70th minute introduction, running a 1-2 with Paul Pogba, whose poke from 15 yards took a deflection of Australia defender Aziz Behich for an own goal 11 minutes later that stood as the winner. Giroud gave shape to France’s offense, which struggled to click into higher gears despite a potent trio of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
Les Bleus manager Didier Deschamps noted the lack of cohesion of the front three around Pogba and fellow midfielder N’Golo Kante as they scrambled in all directions as opposed to the more streamlined and simplified approach after his entrance.
“When he is not there we realize just how useful he can be,” Deschamps said in his press conference about Giroud, who scored three goals during qualifying and had a pair of markers in friendlies this year.
Peru was a tough-luck loser in its first World Cup match since 1982, suffering a 1-0 loss to Denmark. The match swung when Christian Cueva missed a first-half penalty and overshadowed a game effort from the Incas as Andre Carillo was a menace on the right side while Jefferson Farfan and Cueva were able to carve out quality scoring chances throughout the contest.
Peru manager Ricardo Gareca may look to find time for striker Paolo Guerrero, who shined in his 28-minute stint coming off the bench after replacing Edison Flores. The Incas are winless in seven World Cup matches (0-2-5) since a 4-1 victory over Iran in 1978 to reach the second group stage.
LAST TIME OUT
The positive for France from its win over Australia is the defense did well in the run of play save Samuel Umtiti’s moment of madness in which he raised his arm to make contact with a cross in the penalty area that led to Mile Jedniak converting from the spot in the 62nd minute to level the match.
Bleus keeper Hugo Lloris was rarely called into action, with his most vital moment coming near the end of the first half in which he prevented an own goal with a diving save after Corentin Tolisso touched the ball towards his own net.
Peru did not lack for enterprise in its loss to Denmark as it put six of its 18 shots on target. More impressive is that six different players had one shot on target, with Farfan and Guerrero leading the way with three shots apiece.
The Incas may not be able to open up France given Kante’s prowess in the midfield, and the Chelsea disruptor is looking to make amends for a sub-par performance by his standards.
Giroud will take the place of Dembele in the starting XI, while Blaise Matuidi will give more structure in the midfield over Tolisso. That midfield pairing with Kante would turn France’s 4-3-3 into more of a 4-2-3-1, though Pogba’s playmaking is better served in a reserved role behind Griezmann and Mbappe.
Peru is expected to remain in its 4-2-3-1 set-up with an unchanged lineup. The only potential change could be Guerrero replacing Farfan to lead the line since it’s possible he could extend to 60 minutes after playing nearly a half-hour versus Denmark.
PLAYER TO WATCH
France – Olivier Giroud (F)
Even if he does not find the back of the net, Giroud brings perhaps the most important attribute a young team needs, a target point. He can hold up play on long balls and also interplay underneath to Griezmann and Mbappe. In this instance, less running could mean more quality shots for Les Bleus.
Peru – Andre Carillo (MF)
The Watford winger provided all sorts of problems for Denmark on the right side with his pace, which Peru will need in this match. Carillo will try to find space against left back Lucas Hernandez. The Incas have a very aggressive pairing on the right side with Carillo and Luis Advincula, and they will look to push forward when the opportunity avails itself.
Per Ladbrokes, France is a solid 4-7 favorite, while Peru checks in as an 11-2 underdog. The odds of a draw are listed at 13-5. Griezmann and Giroud are joint top-choices for the first goal-scorer at 7-2, with Mbappe right behind at 4-1. Guerrero is Peru’s top option at 13-2 for a 1-0 lead, with Farfan getting slightly longer odds at 17-2.
There is a train of thought that Les Bleus were simply dealing with a case of nerves in the first match, which is a reasonable response for a team with so many young playmakers in their first major tournament off home soil. Now the expectations are even higher with Deschamps making tactical adjustments in hopes of a more flowing offense, especially in the final third.
Peru, meanwhile, does not have to alter its game plan much. The Incas were unlucky to a degree with Cueva’s missed penalty and a pair of shots that were thwarted by Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel. The key now is for them to replicate that effort and get a rub of luck they missed out on in their first match.
Still, it will be a very big ask to take all three points from this match. A draw is not beyond Peru’s reach, but a better France side as an opponent may make it so. Look for Les Bleus to record a 3-1 victory and move to the edge of advancing pending the earlier result between Denmark and Australia.
France will complete group play versus Denmark on Tuesday in Moscow while Peru wraps up its three matches the same day against Australia in Sochi.