Fri, Nov 25, 2022 3:59 AM
By JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Olivier Giroud will overtake Thierry Henry to become France's all-time leading scorer with 52 goals if he scores against Denmark at the World Cup on Saturday. If Kylian Mbappe finds the net he will move level with another France great.
A victory against the Danes at Stadium 974 will also qualify Les Bleus for the knockout round, and as group winners if Tunisia and Australia draw in the other Group D game.
So there's plenty to look forward to, although France captain Hugo Lloris is still striking a cautious note.
“If you look too far ahead in a competition that’s when you can stumble. There’s a big mountain for us to climb tomorrow,” Lloris said Friday. “It will be a battle; the fact the Danes drew against Tunisia means they need to win.”
Giroud and Mbappe looked sharp together and both scored in Tuesday's 4-1 win against Australia.
Another goal for Mbappe would bring his tally to 30 for France.
That would move him level with Just Fontaine, whose 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup remains a tournament record. In those days players were not earning massive salaries or endorsements, so Fontaine's prize for leading scorer in Sweden was a hunter's rifle.
It was an appropriate reward for such a ruthless sharpshooter, who scored his 30 in just 21 games before his career was wrecked by a knee injury.
So Giroud and Mbappe are in illustrious company, and they're doing well together. Mbappe scored one goal and set up Giroud's second against Australia.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand was asked if he fears Mbappe.
“I don’t think it’s good to be frightened of anything. We have no plans to stop him,” Hjulmand joked, before adding. “Of course we do. When we played him in Copenhagen we had a structure in place, but he still had great chances to score. Whatever you do, you can’t keep a top player like that down."
He will deploy central defender Simon Kjaer to contain his 36-year-old AC Milan clubmate Giroud, who Hjulmand thinks is only improving with age.
“Giroud has shown he’s probably even better than before. But Simon knows him well. Hopefully that's an advantage,” he said.
The Giroud-Mbappe partnership is significant for the goals but also because for a long time they were considered incompatible. Mbappe was more at ease alongside Karim Benzema, who took Giroud's place at last year's European Championship, while Giroud struck up a good partnership with Antoine Griezmann at Euro 2016 and the last World Cup.
With Benzema out injured and Griezmann dropping into a midfield role, the Mbappe-Giroud partnership has happened circumstantially. Both are well served by the speed and crossing of winger Ousmane Dembele, who's also back in the side.
“His pass for Mbappe's header (against Australia) was magnificent,” Deschamps said. “He always has that ability to beat a player.”
The trio are important to France's chances of retaining its title.
But however strong the French attack looks, there are evident weaknesses in an injury-hit defense. Lucas Hernandez was the latest to join the list after sustaining a ruptured ACL in his right knee against the Australians.
Central defender Raphael Varane hasn't played since a hamstring injury with Manchester United on Oct. 11.
Deschamps hinted that Varane will start Saturday.
France desperately needs him after a patched-up and inexperienced back four was easily breached on Australia's first goal.
“We gave away four chances against Australia,” Deschamps said. “There are things to improve.”
The Danes beat France twice during the Nations League this year and Deschamps thinks they don't get enough credit.
“I think they are underestimated considering their true quality,” Deschamps said. “They’re able to change systems easily throughout a match and that causes problems.”
Hjulmand said that even an injury-hit France squad will be a tough opponent.
“France would need to have a lot of injuries if they’re going to be really weakened. (Because) the have an incredible amount of great players,” Hjulmand said.
But even if the Danes do have what it takes to cause the French problems in defense, the question is whether their own defense can stop France's new-look attack.
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