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Lloris, Varane, Griezmann, Giroud: A quartet of veterans leads France’s World Cup charge

With more than 450 international caps between them, Hugo Lloris, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Raphaël Varane have provided the backbone of coach Didier Deschamps’ French squads for the past decade. The four veterans take on Leo Messi’s Argentina on Sunday, hoping to lead Les Bleus to consecutive World Cup titles.

2022 FIFA World Cup © FMM graphics studio

A keeper, a defender, a midfielder and a striker: the quartet of players that has carried France to the World Cup final in Qatar is quite unlike the famous “Magic Square” led by Michel Platini in the 1980s. It is more like a robust spinal cord, the backbone of a team that bends but somehow never breaks.  

Since coach Didier Deschamps took over the French squad in 2012, every successful tournament for Les Bleus – most notably their 2018 World Cup triumph in Russia – has rested on the same four players: Hugo Lloris, the captain and goalkeeper; Raphaël Varane, the centre-back; Antoine Griezmann, recently rebranded as a holding and creative midfielder; and old-fashioned striker Olivier Giroud.


“We’re lucky to have enjoyed this stability over the years,” Varane, at 29 the youngest of the four, told a press conference on Friday. “We know one another and how to work together. We try to pass on our experience to others and also give them a boost when needed.” 

Between them, the four pillars of Deschamps’ squad count a staggering 471 international caps. They now average just under 33 years of age, but have only improved over the years, maturity making up for the slowing pace. It was their experience and resilience that saw France snatch victory in a hard-fought quarter-final when England appeared to have Les Bleus on the ropes. 

Their talismanic role has earned them the respect of younger players who have stolen much of the limelight, chief among them Kylian Mbappé. As 23-year-old midfielder Youssouf Fofana put it, “The more experienced players leave us room to express ourselves. They’re not on our backs 24/7 – and we respect them for that.” 

France have never failed to win a major tournament match when all four of Deschamps’ stalwarts featured in the starting eleven. It’s no wonder fans of Les Bleus are fretting over Varane’s health after he skipped training on Friday amid reports of a mystery illness afflicting several players in the French camp. 

  • Hugo Lloris, guardian of the temple

Hugo Lloris played a pivotal role in France's narrow defeat of England.
Hugo Lloris played a pivotal role in France’s narrow defeat of England. © Paul Ellis, AFP

Lloris captained France even before Deschamps took over as coach in 2012, holding on to that role despite the coach’s past reluctance to hand goalkeepers the armband. At 35, he has amassed a record 144 caps for France, including a staggering 119 as captain. He is now just one win away from becoming the first male player to captain a team to two World Cup titles. 

A calming, level-headed presence, Lloris has consistently delivered when it mattered, producing sensational reflex saves in France’s biggest matches. Ahead of the quarter-final, some in the English press had singled him out as a possible “weak link” in France’s squad – only to see him repeatedly parry the Three Lions’ shots on goal. The keeper was again decisive in fending off Morocco’s assaults in a tight semi-final contest. 

Lloris is also the coach’s point man in the dressing room, the one he relies on to get his message across. Discussing the skipper’s extraordinary longevity, Deschamps noted that “some records are more trivial than others, but [Lloris’s] record number of caps speaks for itself”. 

  • Raphaël Varane, master of defence 

France centre-half Raphaël Varane attends a press conference at the World Cup on December 12, 2022.
France centre-half Raphaël Varane attends a press conference at the World Cup on December 12, 2022. © Bernadett Szabo, Reuters

France’s best defender at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Varane was almost ruled out of the tournament in Qatar after suffering a hamstring injury in October. To the relief of Deschamps, he returned just in time to guide a talented but inexperienced defence all the way to the final. 

With 92 France caps under his belt, the veteran of three World Cups provides much-needed composure at the back, whether pairing in central defence with newcomers Dayot Upamecano or Ibrahima Konaté – who counted just 10 caps between them ahead of the tournament.  

A hugely respected member of the squad, France’s vice-captain does not shy away from scolding his teammates when needed. He notably gave the team a dressing-down at half-time during a tricky last-16 tie against Poland, which saw Lloris make a couple of dramatic saves for Les Bleus while the match was still goalless.

“I’m here to guide players, encourage them. That’s part of my role and what others expect from me,” the 29-year-old said after the game. “It’s a natural process and the young players listen.” 

  • Antoine Griezmann, France’s handyman 

Antoine Griezmann has amassed an astonishing tally of 73 consecutive matches for Les Bleus.
Antoine Griezmann has amassed an astonishing tally of 73 consecutive matches for Les Bleus. © Adrian Dennis, AFP

France’s ability to absorb the pressure from opponents owes much to Griezmann’s extraordinary conversion from sparkling forward to tireless midfield worker – a transformation largely dictated by necessity after Les Bleus were hit by a string of injuries prior to the tournament.  

The loss of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante – Deschamps’ preferred midfield pairing in Russia four years ago – forced the coach to come up with a new structure that hinges on Griezmann’s versatility. France’s top scorer at Euro 2016 and (jointly with Mbappé) at the 2018 World Cup, Griezmann is now both a holding midfielder and playmaker, as much a creator of goals as he is a tireless defender. As such, he has filled in for the squad’s main absentees, including injured Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema. “He is doing the job of Pogba, Kante and Benzema,” noted former Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta ahead of Sunday’s final. 

Of the four old-timers in Deschamps’ squad, Griezmann is the more playful and relaxed, his slender build and boyish good looks earning him the nickname “The Little Prince”. But he is uniquely focused when it comes to implementing a game plan – and is arguably Deschamps’ most indispensable player, having not missed a match for France since June 2017.  

“I owe him so much,” Griezmann said of the France coach, who first called him up in 2014 at age 22. “I try to do everything to ensure he keeps having confidence in me. Every game, every action is me saying ‘Thank you’ to him.” 

  • Olivier Giroud, the finisher 

Olivier Giroud celebrates after scoring a record 52nd goal for France against Poland on December 4.
Olivier Giroud celebrates after scoring a record 52nd goal for France against Poland on December 4. © Odd Andersen, AFP

When a tiring French squad began to wilt under pressure in the quarter-final against England, it was quite naturally the one-two of Griezmann and Giroud that provided the killer blow, with the 36-year-old striker scoring off an exquisite assist from the “Little Prince”. The crucial goal set another milestone in the career of an unsung striker who continues to break records and silence his many critics. 

Giroud’s love affair with Les Bleus has much to do with the misfortunes of another, better-known French forward: Real Madrid’s Benzema. It was the latter’s exclusion over a sextape scandal that handed Giroud a place in Deschamps’ starting 11 at Euro 2016 and then the World Cup in Russia. Four years on, injury to Benzema has again offered Giroud a chance to shine for his country. 

While the AC Milan forward failed to score at the 2018 World Cup, he has bagged four goals already in Qatar, leapfrogging Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time male top scorer. True to form, he has thrived below the radar, an old-fashioned striker delivering when it matters while all eyes are on flashier teammates like Mbappé. 

A team player to the bone, Giroud appears to live by Deschamps’ mantra, which the coach repeated ahead of Sunday’s final match: “I’m not the most important person. It’s the French team.” 

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