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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of representing your country at a major tournament, with the entire nation behind you.
That’s the thoughts of Olivier Giroud, who was an 11-year-old when he watched the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Thierry Henry lift the World Cup at France 98 in front of a jubilant public.
Our striker, who arrived from Arsenal in January, almost repeated the feat with his French team-mates two years ago, but the hosts couldn’t lift the European Championship as they were defeated 1-0 after extra-time by Portugal.
Sure, that moment was tough to take. Sure, it takes time to overcome such a defeat. However, Giroud and the rest of the French certainly weren’t going to wallow. In fact, they believe they’ve come back stronger and hungrier than ever ahead of next week’s World Cup in Russia.
‘Of course, Euro 2016 was a very painful memory,’ recalls Olivier. ‘We thought we could win the final against Portugal, especially being the host nation, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
‘We have all grown from that experience though, you can’t look back. It was tough but I think we will come back stronger from it. We have a good mix of youth and experience in our squad and although I think we are probably still outsiders for the title compared to some other teams, we have a good chance to show the world that France can win another World Cup. We are going to Russia to try and do that, just like every other team.
‘I’m very proud every time I represent my country and pull on the French shirt. I think for me, it is even more enjoyable because I didn’t make my debut until I was a little bit older and I had been working very hard for that moment.
‘I didn’t play at 19 or 20 like some other players, but I know where I’ve come from and I think one of my main strengths was my mental ability to never give up on my dreams and my targets, which was to play for France at the World Cup. I can’t wait to play and have my friends and family watching me.’
The striker heads into the tournament on the back of a strong finish to the campaign with the Blues, netting important goals and helping us lift the FA Cup before being announced in the Les Bleus squad.
At 31, Giroud is now hoping to lend his experience to the younger players in the squad as they look to go one better in Russia then they did at the Euros, two years ago.
‘I wanted to finish the season as strongly as I could with Chelsea and I think I did that,’ said the striker. ‘I scored a few goals and helped the team win the FA Cup, so that was great heading into the World Cup with the national team.
‘I’m quite experienced now at 31 years old and I am happy to help out the younger players wherever I can. I was fortunate that when I first played for the national team I was 24, 25 years old and I had good senior players that would always try to help me and now, I would like to do the same for the younger players to help them improve.
‘I love the World Cup and would often watch the tournaments growing up. The first one I watched was USA 94, when Brazil beat Italy. I remember the penalty miss from Roberto Baggio when he hit it over the bar. It was disappointing for me because I liked this player growing up. But that gave me the taste for watching the World Cup games and then the next tournament, France 98, I would watch all the games.
‘I was 11 years old and always wearing blue to watch the games! It was a great tournament, with the entire French nation getting behind the team.
‘Now I want to live that experience myself, with the boys we have now 20 years later. Hopefully we can follow what they did.’
Place of birth: Chambery
First cap: v USA, November 2011
Honours: EURO 2016 runners-up
Did you know? Giroud is France's joint fourth all-time leading goalscorer, tied in that position with Zinedine Zidane
France kick off their campaign against Australia on June 16 and are joined in Group C by Peru and Denmark.