Giroud returns to spearhead Three Musketeers
(BLERIM DZEMAILI 81, GRANIT XHAKA 87)
(Olivier Giroud 17, Blaise Matuidi 18, Mathieu Valbuena 40, Karim Benzema 67, Moussa Sissoko 73)
Oliver Giroud was benched for Les Bleus' opening game, but he was hardly broken. He was being groomed for the group games that mattered.
Didier Deschamps didn't drop the striker against Honduras. He was prepping his French chef to make Swiss cheese.
A pivotal member of a devastating triumvirate, Giroud helped to flatten the Swiss Alps this morning (Singapore time). He reached a peak at the perfect time, which was perhaps his masterful manager's plan all along.
Rumours swiftly circulated that Deschamps benched the Arsenal man in favour of the younger, livelier Antoine Griezmann for the Honduras game.
The 23-year-old certainly revelled in the early spotlight in the Group E opener, but he was a cog in his manager's far-sighted machine.
Pre-tournament friendlies had already suggested that Deschamps knew his best hand was three-of-a-kind: the nimble Mathieu Valbuena on the right, the monstrous Karim Benzama on the other flank and Giroud the maestro in the middle.
These three musketeers could conceivably lead a French charge to the Maracana.
Greater obstacles beyond shaky Switzerland await, but Giroud will not play nowhere man.
He's got a ticket to ride all the way to Rio if the 5-2 dismantling of Ottmar Hitzfeld's hopeless, hapless loons was any guide.
For a married man who was caught in a hotel room with a mysterious woman, Giroud brings no baggage to a squad renowned for their excess in the past.
The Arsenal forward is not tainted by the bad blood that poisoned the French camp in South Africa. Former coach Laurent Blanc granted the striker his international debut only in 2011.
He arrived in Brazil untested, certainly, but untainted. The latter will improve his chances of longevity in Les Bleus jersey.
Contrary to claims of personal unhappiness, Giroud is a willing, integral member of Deschamps' committed collective.
Borrowing heavily from Aime Jacquet's 1998 book on individual sacrifice for the greater good, Deschamps demands a willingness to perform different roles, play out of position and always support the common goal.
Giroud typifies his country's new selfless philosophy.
He swopped positions with Benzema constantly, set up goals and scored. He ticked every box in his job description.
Had he contributed nothing else, his opening goal justified his inclusion and guaranteed his place in the knockout stages.
Rising above Valon Behrami like a meerkat, his hair quiff stood, quite literally, head and shoulders above everyone else in the penalty box.
His header, from a full 15 metres, appeared to come from a gun rather than his forehead.
Headers rarely reach the net from 15 metres. This one threatened to rip through it.
But his involvement in the third French goal is likely to please Deschamps most.
The French coach's 4-3-3 formation relies heavily on the counter-attacking pace and penetration of Benzema, Giroud and Valbuena and their ability to link with Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi to break quickly.
Their third goal should form the cornerstone of future powerpoint presentations during classes on counter-attacking strategies at football academies.
From the French penalty box, Raphael Varane sent a raking pass towards the galloping Giroud along the left flank.
He had swopped places with Benzema so quickly, no one inside the Salvador stadium noticed, least of all the comatose Swiss defence.
His acceleration belonged on a Formula 1 track. He left trailing defenders in another postcode. He drove forward into the box, swept the ball across the turf for a waiting Valbuena at the far post.
Forget the Honduras warm-up, where Deschamps might have been partially guilty of misjudging the opponents' fortitude. This fixture marked the World Cup arrival of his favoured three.
They overlap without over-indulging. They switch without being selfish. They sacrifice rather than sulk.
Benzema's muscular presence makes most of the headlines and Valbuena's ingenuity leaves French hearts fluttering.
But Giroud holds the line. He's an attacking emollient that brings the trio closer together. It's a smooth operation when he's the main man in the middle.
The unassuming striker has gone from the bench to brilliant in a single game.
If anyone assumed his position in this mesmerizing French line-up was in doubt before, he's untouchable now.