PARIS (Reuters) - Striker Olivier Giroud, who has grabbed his chance for automatic selection, will be a key figure on Tuesday when France seek victory over Finland and a probable place in next month’s playoffs for the World Cup finals.
Giroud, 27, is set to make his third consecutive start, at Karim Benzema’s expense, after helping les Bleus end a five-match goalless run when he led them to a 4-2 victory in Belarus last month.
The Arsenal frontman, who has won most of his 23 caps as a substitute, then scored two goals and played a leading role on Friday when France whipped Australia 6-0 in a friendly.
As world champions Spain, who are three points ahead in Group I, host Georgia, France look almost certain to face a two-legged playoff to book a place in next year’s tournament in Brazil.
France aim to extend their recent winning run that started in Belarus where coach Didier Deschamps benched Benzema to field Giroud.
“Against Australia, we showed the same things that we had showed in Belarus, a lot of enthusiasm, the will to do well, and that’s what will count in the next games,” Giroud told reporters.
“We have to get used to victory, to love victory more and more and to hate defeat. What we’ve done against Australia gives us a lot of hopes for the future.
“I have trust in this team, I have a lot of hopes.”
France had not scored for five games before Giroud was picked ahead of Benzema.
He added: “I’ve played for France for two years. When I got the chance to start, it always went well. I’ve always been patient and I’m proud of that.
“I have said that I wanted to play more and it’s good for France that I can compete with Karim.”
Benzema came off the bench at halftime to score the sixth against Australia and end his 15-month international goal drought, but Giroud had already gained ground.
Should he shine again at Stade de France, Giroud will feel almost sure of keeping his place next month as Deschamps builds unity and confidence.
“The collective performance was very good against Australia and the eleven would deserve to start again on Tuesday. It won’t be the case, but I will maintain the hard core,” said Deschamps.
“The two games are all about what we can expect in November,” he added.
“If we had to play a decider now, I know what I would do. When all the players are good, I have to make choices and it’s more complicated.
“But I’m not going to complain about it.”
Finland are expected to give France a more thorough test than a weak Australia. Third in Group I with nine points, the Nordic team have conceded six goals in seven games and held Spain 1-1 last month.
Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Timothy Collings