Olivier Giroud would prefer Thierry Henry to be helping France and not Belgium at World Cup

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France will come up against a familiar face when they take on foes Belgium for a place in the World Cup final on Tuesday.

And Les Bleus striker Olivier Giroud has admitted he would have preferred to have legendary compatriot Thierry Henry in their camp as opposed to opponents Belgium.

The former Arsenal and Barcelona striker is an assistant coach to Roberto Martinez in the Red Devils’ set-up and has worked closely with the forwards, who have played their part in helping the team reach the last four of the competition.

Henry’s loyalties will be stretched in the St Petersburg clash, though, as he is France’s all-time leading scorer with 51 career goals in 123 matches.

Chelsea forward Giroud, who ranks joint fourth on the list of marksman for the country alongside Zinedine Zidane on 31 goals, admits that he would rather Henry was giving him advice than Romelu Lukaku, who will likely lead the line for France’s opponents.

“I’d had preferred him to be with us and to be giving his advice to me,” confessed Giroud.

“He’s a living legend of French football and we have a lot of respect for him. We have a lot of respect for what he’s done, but we’re not going to think about it very much.

Thierry-Henry-Arsenal

“I’m not jealous. There’s a lot of mutual respect. I don’t resent him. My job’s to be good on the pitch, to help my team. But I’d be proud to show Titi that he chose the wrong side.”

Meanwhile, Giroud thinks that going to Belgium was a natural step for the ex-Monaco, Juventus and NY Red Bulls hitman.

“He’s there to learn and to develop as a coach,” he added of Henry.

“Maybe one day he will be able to coach that France team. I’m sure he’s learning on a daily basis and giving good advice to the Belgians.”

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Zlatko Dalic, from angry Al Ain fans' mock airline ticket, to booking a place in the World Cup final with Croatia

Matt Jones 8/07/2018
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From managerial icons Hector Cuper, Joachim Low and Oscar Tabarez to fine footballers turned coaches like Didier Deschamps, Fernando Hierro and Aliou Cisse – the 32 teams at the 2018 World Cup have been led by some figures who truly belong to the pantheon of football legends.

Zlatko Dalic’s name, on the other hand, wouldn’t have been widely known outside of Croatia before the tournament – except for a few quiet, sandy regions of the Middle East.

Croatia’s nickname is Vatreni (The Blazers) and Dalic will don a metaphorical cloak of invincibility if the former Al Ain coach can lead his men into the World Cup final.

Invincibility is a concept that would have felt alien to him despite three trophy-laden years at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium from 2014-17 – Dalic’s exalted reputation quickly crumbled towards the twilight of his time in charge of the Boss.

This despite the fact he stabilised the club, returning it to success after a rocky eight-month spell under first Jorge Fossati and then Quique Sanchez Flores following Cosmin Olaroiu’s shock resignation and defection to fellow UAE powerhouses Al Ahli in July 2013.

The Romanian was previously worshipped, the club’s most successful manager in a decade.

Frenchman Bruno Metsu won back-to-back domestic championships, a Super Cup and the coveted AFC Champions League title at the helm between 2002-4.

Dalic won three trophies at Al Ain, but he was quickly turned against.

Dalic won three trophies at Al Ain, but he was quickly turned against.

Olaroiu won two Arabian Gulf League titles and an Arabian Gulf Super Cup between 2011-13, meaning he was always going to be a tough act to follow.

Dalic was walking into the lion’s den when he arrived in March 2014 – particularly after the farces of Fossati and Flores – but rapidly turned things around.

He led the club into the knockout rounds of the 2014 Champions League, the first time the Boss had reached that stage in eight years.

He won the President’s Cup two months after taking charge, beating Olaroiu’s league champions Al Ahli 1-0 in the final, then delivered the AGL title in 2014/15 and the Super Cup at the beginning of the following campaign.

A second Champions League crown was ripped from their grasp when they suffered heartbreak in November 2016’s final, losing 3-2 on aggregate to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Despite taking the club to such heady heights, that defeat proved the catalyst for a drastic plummet, with Dalic the protagonist.

He had helped Al Ain soar, but one disgruntled fan memorably printed a mock one-way plane ticket back to Croatia with his name on it during a league game as things soon soured. He was sacked in January 2017.

All that hurt and humiliation must seem a distant memory now for Dalic, who is on the brink of achieving hero status back home, having established himself as an elite tactician and motivator this summer.

France ’98 will be remembered for Croatia’s glittering debut on football’s grand stage, their golden generation richly deserving of their third-place finish – behemoths Germany and the Netherlands dispatched along the way.

Following 20 years of mediocrity, Croatia’s glow is now golden once again.

Rakitic scored the winning penalty for the second shootout in a row.

Rakitic scored the winning penalty for the second shootout in a row.

Dalic took over a flagging campaign and breathed life into it last October, two defeats and a draw from four games turned around terrifically with two victories and a draw securing a route to Russia.

He made bold moves. Captain Luka Modric was taken out of his comfort zone and pushed into a more attacking role which reaped immediate dividends.

Eintracht Frankfurt flyer Ante Rebic, who wasn’t a favourite under former coach Ante Cacic, was brought back in from the cold, and he’s been one of the unsung heroes of this campaign.

As Croatia have edged to the brink of surpassing their World Cup debut, something that has flown under the radar are the issues Dalic has had to deal with away from the pitch.

Striker Nikola Kalinic was sent home after the first game because he reportedly refused to come off the bench against Nigeria. There were even rumours that Dalic’s 38-year-old assistant coach and former Bayern Munich and national team striker Ivica Olic was training with the players in preparation for being named as the AC Milan misfit’s replacement in the 23-man squad.

Off the field, the fraud trial of Zdravko Mamic – whose brother Zoran (part of that 1998 World Cup squad) replaced Dalic as Al Ain boss – threatened to derail their World Cup blueprint, especially with captain Modric and centre-back Dejan Lovren also implicated.

Croatia's players celebrate after Ivan Rakitic's penalty sent them into the World Cup semi-finals.

Croatia’s players celebrate after Ivan Rakitic’s penalty sent them into the World Cup semi-finals.

All this drama, however, instead galvanised the squad, with Dalic the glue keeping it all together. But you would hardly have known anything was amiss off the pitch.

Dalic delivered one of the finest Croatia performances ever in the 3-0 thumping of Argentina in the group stage, arguably the finest performance of the tournament thus far.

Despite the epic result, Dalic was irked after the match when La Albiceleste coach Jorge Sampaoli failed to congratulate or even greet him at the final whistle.

“I have never left the pitch before shaking hands with the coach of the opponent whether I won or lost. I even gave him a Croatian kit before the game. Now I hope he will remember it forever.”

Dalic has certainly made a lasting impression during the course of the last month. Lead Croatia to a maiden World Cup final and even an inaugural title, and he is unlikely to ever be forgotten.

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Lionhearted Harry Maguire is the living embodiment of England's dream World Cup run

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If England were to defy the odds, silence their critics and make an unprecedented appearance in the latter stages in Russia, a certain Harry would need to play a starring role.

England have defied the odds, critics have become believers – cue the familiar if not inescapable “It’s Coming Home” song – and only Croatia stand in their way of a first World Cup final since they last won it in 1966. However, which Harry is playing the leading role is up for debate.

As captain, star striker and front-runner for the Golden Boot, Harry Kane should be the undisputed headline grabber. Yet, the less fancied Harry Maguire is unquestionably giving him a run for his money.

While Kane has by no means been lacking in impact or contribution, three of his six goals have come from the spot and his only one from open play was unwittingly deflected in off his heel after a Ruben Loftus-Cheek strike. There have been plenty of eye-catching goals to savour at this World Cup, but a Kane special is yet to join the collection.

Harry Kane has scored six goals at the World Cup.

Harry Kane has scored six goals at the World Cup.

Maguire on the other hand has been all-action. A solid defence, equally crucial to the team’s build-up play as it is keeping opponents at bay, has laid the foundation for England’s dream run and the lionhearted Leicester City defender has been pivotal to the system.

When Gareth Southgate announced his 23-man squad for the World Cup, Maguire’s inclusion was questioned. With a semi-final clash lying in wait, a line-up without him is now unimaginable.

Not only has he made up for his perceived lack of pace with disciplined and committed defending, but his ability to bring the ball out from defence with such poise and purpose has been invaluable. Meanwhile, England’s burgeoning reputation as this World Cup’s set-piece specialists is in no small part down to Maguire’s incredible dominance in the air.

Only Artem Dzyuba (41) has won more headers than Maguire (33) at the tournament and the Three Lions have capitalised on the centre-back’s aerial supremacy. Indirect free-kicks are regularly aimed at the 6 ft 4 in defender and he invariably wins the header, which is directed back across the six-yard box – a prime example being John Stones’ goal against Panama. He plays a crucial role from corner kicks as well and buried his header expertly to score the opener against Sweden in the quarter-finals.

In the aftermath of the golden generation that only endured disappointment and humiliation to extend England’s barren run, the current crop of players have been a breath of fresh air. Apart from Raheem Sterling’s tattoo fiasco that was blown wildly out of proportion, this squad has been squeaky clean.

Stories of heart-warming journeys to the top and of a buoyant spirit in the camp have replaced those of scandal and discontent on the back pages. Kane is the only player with a high enough profile to fly in the same stratosphere that most of the golden generation occupied and his conduct has proved to be a shining example.

Maguire on the other hand epitomises the general character of the squad. He has the tendency to fly under the radar and has largely been underestimated, even foolishly undermined. Yet, with the odds stacked against him, he’s been fearless, unassuming and wholly committed.

England would love Kane to plunder goal after stunning goal and lead them to World Cup glory, but the reality is that they have to battle through gritted teeth and Maguire has been their foremost warrior.

Perhaps the semi-finals or indeed the showpiece event, will demand a moment of magic and for England’s benefit, fate may finally coax one out of Kane. However, as Commissioner Jim Gordan would say, ‘he is the Harry England deserve but not the one it needs right now.’

That title belongs to Maguire.

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