Celebrating Olivier Giroud & Julian Alvarez’s transformation from understudies to leading men in Qatar
MANY parallels can be drawn between Olivier Giroud and Julian Alvarez’s World Cup campaigns.
Both were expected to be back-up options in Qatar but now find themselves as starting centre-forwards for the two teams most likely to lift the trophy.
In the case of Milan’s experienced target man, the door was opened by Karim Benzema’s injury when the current Ballon d’Or holder withdrew from France’s squad on the eve of the tournament.
While this was something of a blow for Les Bleus, it was by no means a disaster as Didier Deschamps is a huge fan of Giroud, who led France’s line for years during Benzema’s international exile.
France won the World Cup in Russia with Giroud acting as selfless striker so that Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe could express themselves, he didn’t even register a shot on target – four years later he’s shown a sharper eye for goal.
The Man City forward’s journey from understudy to leading man has been rather different.
Lautaro Martinez started the tournament as Argentina’s first-choice striker and deservedly so, the 25-year-old was his side’s joint-leading scorer in qualifying.
He also scored crucial goals during the Albiceleste’s successful Copa America campaign and subsequent 3-0 Finalissima victory over Italy at Wembley.
Martinez entered the tournament having scored eight goals and provided six assists for Inter in the first half of the current season, which makes his sudden loss of form even stranger.
For whatever reason, his finishing has deserted him in Qatar, although he did convert the winning spot-kick in the penalty shootout against Netherlands.
Lionel Scaloni had no choice but to promote Alvarez to starting striker and the result has been a considerable improvement to Argentina’s performances.
Giroud and Alvarez (who both wear No9 for their respective nations) are rightly seen as secondary threats to Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi (who both wear No10) but their contributions should be recognised and celebrated.
At the time of writing, they each have four goals to their name and both have affected decisive moments in the knockout stages – most notably, Giroud’s headed winner to eliminate England and Alvarez’s brace against Croatia.
And the pair are very much in the hunt for the Golden Boot, currently led by Messi and Mbappe on five goals each, which is extraordinary when you consider they would have spent the majority of the tournament on the bench were it not for Benzema’s injury and Martinez’s unexpected yips.
Fittingly, only a cigarette paper separates them in Dream Team World Cup.
The Frenchman currently has 29 points to the Argentine’s 28.
If the bookmakers are to be believed and Deschamps see off a resilient Morocco outfit this evening then gaffers will be presented with a close call ahead of the final.
Assuming most opt for a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formation, and decide to back Mbappe and Messi, there’s only one space left in the forward line.
A case could be made that Antoine Griezmann deserves the spot but at this stage it looks to be a toss-up between Giroud and Alvarez.
Tonight’s events could alter the picture of course – only a fool would underestimate the Atlas Lions now – but it looks as if tens of thousands of Dream Team World Cup bosses will have to agonise over whether France or Argentina’s No9 is the man to back ahead of the big one.
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