Goal-shy Giroud channelling the spirit of '98 and Guivarc'h
If you were to say the name of Stephane Guivarc'h to most people outside France, it wouldn't bring much reverence. He has instead become a bit of trivia, something that almost seems a trick of the mind, renowned as one of the worst players to ever start and win a World Cup final.
Yet that a striker of such limitations - and such a limited supply of goals - can start for a team of such talent only serves to further emphasise such talent. France won the World Cup despite having a first-choice striker who didn't score once.
For Olivier Giroud, however, the name of Guivarc'h means something else. Whatever about reverence, it is a reference.
Like Guivarc'h, Giroud hasn't scored in the tournament yet, and barely had a chance. Like Guivarc'h, Giroud's role at the forefront of the attack can seem so jarring in a side otherwise filled with so much talent. The Chelsea striker is the odd man out - but that's kind of the point.
Just like Guivarc'h, he has an important tactical role in the team that brings more talented stars into play, and means no-one in the French set-up cares if he doesn't score.
The player's importance to Didier Deschamps is emphasised by two other figures beyond the goals. Giroud has had more minutes than anyone else in the manager's tenure, and supplied three assists in this World Cup.
"You always play for the team-mates," said Giroud. "Obviously I prefer to have chances and score, but if I can make space for the others, I always try to choose the best option for the team. When France were world champions in 1998, (Christophe) Dugarry scored one goal and Guivarc'h not at all. If we are World Cup champions without me scoring, I don't mind. It means, if I'm on the pitch, the boss thinks I can help the team. I've got my part to play. I try to make space for my team-mates."
While Giroud is so much more selfless than most strikers, that isn't to say goals aren't on his mind. There were a few moments from the 2-0 win over Uruguay that meant he had some playful rebukes for his team-mates.
"It's true I haven't had too many chances," Giroud said after the game. "[Against Uruguay], I could have maybe had my fourth assist if Kylian [Mbappé] takes his time in the first half. Second half, I could have received the ball, [Corentin] Tolisso preferred to shoot… I'm still happy because no matter if I score or not, it was a very, very tough game. I try to give my best for the team. I keep the goals for the semi-final and maybe the final!"
His manager backed up this view, saying: "It's true Olivier hasn't scored yet. I repeat yet. He is important for our style. In the last game he made assists for Mbappé, we need this supporting play.
"It's good if he scores but Olivier is always very generous and doesn't complain about working hard. He might not have the flamboyant style but the team needs him even if he doesn't score. His game is in the air and defence. He does many things, it is the players around him that benefit. He attracts a lot of attention from defenders."
And that frees up Mbappé, who has blown Giroud away as much as anyone else.
"Yeah, it's very interesting when he starts from far [back]. Right side, he can use his best qualities, his skills, and obviously with this speed he's very precious [valuable] for us. We don't run, we play, we try to combine more central, and after he can run in behind. So we've got different qualities up front, and a good understanding, very complementary."
It could yet be good enough for a first World Cup since 1998 - even if it's not the first time we've seen a role like Giroud's. (© Independent News Service)