International friendlies are not renowned for being unforgettable affairs but when France tackle Ukraine on Wednesday at Stade de France, it will be a night to remember for Olivier Giroud.
The Chelsea striker, who is one goal shy of matching Michel Platini’s tally of 41 for his country, will join an elite cast of seven of his compatriots to win 100 caps for Les Bleus.
With Paris on a heightened state of alert because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the visiting side chronically depleted due to a raft of coronavirus-related call-offs, only a handful will be present in the stadium to see Giroud’s big moment – an unfitting setting for a player who has worked so relentlessly hard for the national team in a near-decade long international career.
“It will be a special match because we will play Ukraine at Stade de France, because I would like to equal Michel Platini as quickly as possible and because it will be my 100th selection,” he told the press on Tuesday.
“I never set a limit in my career, but when I had 75 or 80 caps, I said to myself: ‘Why not reach 100?’
“One hundred is a good number, but I still have some strong years ahead of me. People appreciate things better at my age, even though I’m not 39 either.
“I realise how lucky I’m to become.”
The selection of players who have reached that milestone is choice.
Lilian Thuram leads the way on 142 appearances followed by Thierry Henry, Marcel Desailly, Hugo Lloris, Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Didier Deschamps.
All are remembered as being among the elite of their generation, but for some, Giroud’s name will be oddly juxtaposed beside some of the greatest players to grace the game.
Though a World Cup winner, the 34-year-old will forever be remembered as the centre-forward who failed to muster even a shot on target, let alone a goal, as Les Bleus swept to the title.
While that particular albatross is not one that threatens to burden the veteran, to some it is evidence of his unworthiness to be held in the same esteem as his predecessors in the ‘100 Club’.
Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Just as Giroud’s role as an integral piece of France’s winning puzzle in Russia in 2018, his near decade-long involvement in the national team deserves far more respect than it is ever likely to be granted.
Emerging as a burly No.9 during an age when tiki-taka dominated, Giroud always looked like something of a throwback. With the departure of the 4-4-2 from top-level football, the ‘little man’ with whom he would have previously played was no more.
Instead, he was asked to play a combative role, holding the ball up for midfielders, winning flick-ons and making a nuisance of himself until such time he was given a scoring chance. In short, his role was to do the dirty work.
It is doubtful, for example, that Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe would each have scored four goals at World Cup 2018 had Giroud not been doing much of the leg work.
“When you are a striker like me, you always play for your team-mates,” Giroud said during the competition. “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. That’s the main thing.”
Deschamps, a long-time fan of the former Istres, Montpellier and Arsenal striker, added: “He might not have the flamboyant style of other players, but the team needs him in each and every match. Even if he doesn’t score, he’s useful in attack but also because of his game in the air, and in defence on set pieces.
“He does many things for the game to be balanced. It’s the players around him that benefit from his presence because he attracts a lot of attention from defenders.”
Selflessness, though, is not a trait widely admired in strikers, particularly for a generation used to seeing Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and, latterly, Robert Lewandowski rack up tallies of goals that were unthinkable at the turn of the century.
And Giroud is no slouch in front of goal, having scored eight times in his last 13 outings for his nation. Indeed, he is likely to end his international career as France’s second leading goalscorer of all-time – and with a better goals-per-game ratio than the outright leader in that category, Henry.
As the player pointed out: “I stayed in the team thanks to my efficiency and what I bring to the squad.”
Before his first selection, Giroud described the experience of being called up as a “childhood dream come true”, but while many players simply go through the motions of saying ‘the right’ things, he has always translated that feeling into his play.
He will never accumulate the popular following that many of his fellow French centurions enjoy, but that should not overshadow his contribution as a very important player in the history of the game in his country.
Wednesday will be Giroud’s night – and he deserves it.