ISTRA, Russia (Reuters) – With several top-notch forwards at his disposal, France coach Didier Deschamps has tough choices to make ahead of his young team’s World Cup opener against Australia and the experienced Olivier Giroud could find himself on the bench.
The 31-year-old Chelsea striker, who has scored 31 goals in 74 games for his country, sustained a cut on his forehead in France’s last warm-up match against the United States but has been training with a bandage around his head.
Deschamps, however, is expected to leave Giroud out of the starting lineup for their first Group C match in Kazan on Saturday, having fielded him with the substitutes team in training on Wednesday.
Kylian Mbappe, 19, and 21-year-old Ousmane Dembele, who have linked up impressively during the build-up matches, should start along with Antoine Griezmann, 27, to form a fearsome trio.
“We are three players who appreciate each other. We put our egos on the side,” said Mbappe, who added he was “100 percent” after taking a knock on his ankle at training earlier this week.
“There are not a lot of teams who have a better attacking lineup than us.”
Should the 23-year-old Corentin Tolisso start in midfield and Blaise Matuidi, 31, stay on the bench, it could be the youngest French team to start a World Cup since 1930.
Nothing to worry about, says Mbappe.
“It can be a strength. We can bring some carefreeness, some joie de vivre in a competition where pressure is always weighing on the squad,” the striker added.
In defence, Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard, both 22, are likely to start on the flanks after impressive displays in the warm-up games, in the absence of the injured Djibril Sidibe.
Sidibe has been suffering from a knee injury but French federation president Noel Le Graet indicated he would not be ruled out of the tournament.
“I saw all the players today and Sidibe was in good health,” Le Graet told a news conference on Thursday.
France, who were knocked out in the World Cup quarter-finals by eventual champions Germany four years ago in Brazil, also take on Peru and Denmark in the group stage.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris