At half-time, television cameras spotted a French fan dressed in a cap and striped sweater waving a hastily hand-written cardboard placard. It said: Gagner avec style [win with style]. And this victory over Poland was elegant. For the rest of the teams left in the tournament, it’s worrying.
At the center of it all was a player whose middle name could very well have been Style. No one in the game looks happier than what he encounters in the bathroom mirror every morning than Olivier Giroud. But never mind his glossy sheen of a barnet and perfectly coiffed pirate beard, here he served a master class in the center forward game.
Clearly thriving in a glorious Indian summer of his career, everything he did was not just executed to perfection, it was an example of economy of movement, effort and delivery. Anyone who wants to understand how to play as a frontman should study the game showreels of him. He participates in Kylian Mbappé’s first goal. Antoine Griezmann, another talented Frenchman, repelled a Polish attack from the center of his own box. The ball moved forward and Giroud, patrolling the center circle, brought it down and under control with the most delightfully soft touch. He then immediately passed the ball to Ousmane Dembélé, running down the right.
Giroud, sensing that Mbappé was lurking in the space on the other wing, then lunged towards Dembélé dragging the Polish defense with him. Not that Mbappé needs much space to operate, but his strike partner’s deliberate, cunning and perfectly timed ghost move has given him an acre of space. He duly unleashed an absolute howitzer one shot past Wojciech Szczesny.
Giroud was doing that kind of thing all game long. Relishing having two flyers on either side, he was constantly moving, thinking and creating. Then give the ball to the couple, letting them run for him. He also scored a fine goal, leaping at Mbappé’s invitation for a through ball to get past Szczesny. It was his 52nd international goal, a goal which put him at the top of France’s all-time list, now one above Thierry Henry.
Also, he had the ball in the net a second time. Typically, it was a kick in the head. Nothing trivial for him. Everything oozes style. Unfortunately the referee had already blown the whistle following a collision between Szczesny and Raphaël Varane so it didn’t count. He made the decision with the kind of polite and dignified understanding—a simple shrug and nod—that many of his contemporaries would do well to note (names noting, Luis Suárez). When he was substituted in the second half, the ovation from the French fans was long and warm. They know a winner when they see one.
“Oliver has always been an important player for us,” was his manager Didier Deschamps’ assessment. “We are seeing the quality of him. He managed to stay mentally strong. To break Thierry Henry’s record, to score so many international goals, is an achievement. So well done. And congratulations to his teammates who made it possible.”
At 36, Giroud was judged too old first by Arsenal and then by Chelsea. But you can see why Deschamps wants it there. He plays into the young flyers on either side with the cleverest of touches, every pass caressed, every sack delivered with precision. And his presence allows Griezmann to lurk in the spaces behind him, ready to snatch possession and create more.
Giroud has long brought an air of complete personal satisfaction to his game. But the thing about him is that he’s still proving that esteeming him isn’t entirely unwarranted. As he suggested that touch in the center circle, when it comes to football, he is truly capable of beauty.