Two former Arsenal strikers can now proudly boast to sit atop the all-time goalscoring charts for the France men’s team, but Thierry Henry may not be sitting pretty on his perch for much longer following Olivier Giroud’s record-equalling brace versus Australia on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps’s men had under-performed in the UEFA Nations League over the summer and conceded within the first nine minutes to Craig Goodwin, but Giroud’s 50th and 51st goals for France – alongside headers from Adrien Rabiot and Kylian Mbappe – turned the game on its head.
Taking advantage of Karim Benzema’s absence through injury, Giroud only needs to make the net ripple one more time to overtake Henry and score a record-breaking 52nd goal for his country – one which may very well confirm France’s place in the last 16.
The reigning world champions are sitting pretty at the top of Group D and will be guaranteed a ticket to the knockout rounds with victory, and they could even confirm the top spot should they win and Tunisia’s showdown with Australia end in a draw.
Not since Brazil in 2006 had the World Cup holders won their opening game of the tournament, but having banished that curse, France can now endeavor to win six games in a row at a World Cup finals for the first time in their history – the last team to achieve such a feat were the golden generation of Spain in 2010.
While Christian Eriksen – making his first major tournament appearance for Denmark since his cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 – was able to demonstrate some of the midfield flairs that have made him a hit with the Manchester United fans, the Red and Whites’ opener with Tunisia was otherwise a forgettable affair.
The two sides played out one of a few 0-0 draws to take place in round one, but Tunisia would have felt the most aggrieved not to have come away with all three points, even if they had to survive a late VAR check for a possible penalty on Yassine Meriah’s handball.
Hjulmand has now admitted that his side faces a “complicated” situation in Group D, where they currently occupy third place – separated from second-placed Tunisia on fair play points – but they will still be in with a chance of a top-two finish no matter what transpires this weekend.
A slice of history could also be on the line for the Scandinavian nation here, as they have drawn each of their last four World Cup matches and could now become only the second side to play out five successive stalemates on the biggest global stage, but there are a couple of good omens for this Denmark side who have now kept three clean sheets in their last four games.
Indeed, their final match before the World Cup saw them run out 2-0 winners over France in the Nations League – having also claimed a 2-1 victory in June – and they also overcame Les Bleus 2-0 in the group stage of the 2002 World Cup, when France was defending champions.
France vs Denmark Picks and Predictions
Ahead of the tournament, this matchup was pegged by many as the game in which the Group D outlook would flip.
With France dealing with injuries in midfield and to Karim Benzema, as well as a tidal wave of backroom toxicity that has marked the program before, they looked primed for an all-too-familiar title defense letdown.
Denmark, meanwhile, reached the semifinal of the Euros last summer — without talisman Christian Eriksen — and took four points off France in two Nations League games earlier this year.
While taking Denmark, not France, to top the group took a bit of faith in both the optimism around the Danes and pessimism around the French, it wasn’t unreasonable. Denmark appeared competitive enough to make France an unappealing short favorite in this game. After matchday one, however, the picture has changed considerably — and I am happy to take France at -120 to win.
France recovered from an early goal for Australia to roundly dominate in a 4-1 win, out-creating the Aussies 4.0-0.5 in expected goals. Concerns around their Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante-less midfield appeared overstated, with Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot impressing.
Just as important was the showing of Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, and Antoine Griezmann, who largely revived their crucial roles from 2018 as the attacking lifeblood of France.
For as encouraging as France’s opener was, Denmark’s was discouraging. Though the Danes out-created Tunisia in xG, 1.4-0.9, nearly 1.0 of Denmark’s total was from an incredible miss by Andreas Cornelius.
Tunisia was not only as difficult to break down defensively as they proved to be in 2018 but they seemingly won every second ball and looked like the greater threat to score, with 22 shot-creating actions to Denmark’s 18.
Worse still was that the Danes lost Thomas Delaney for the remainder of the tournament. Not only did Delaney, along with Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg and Eriksen, form the axis of the Denmark team but rounded out the one area, the midfield, where they could theoretically out-perform France.
With Denmark’s potential edge gone and France looking every bit the contender they were expected to be, I am happy to get France at these odds.
France to win the match.