MOSCOW - Thierry Henry might be working as an assistant coach for Belgium, but his place in the pantheon of French soccer is secure, and there will be no hard feelings no matter the outcome of the World Cup semifinal, French forward Olivier Giroud said Sunday.
Two days before France take on its northern neighbor in Saint Petersburg, the Chelsea player said it is going to be bizarre to see Henry, who scored 51 goals in 123 appearances in French blue, working to defeat the nation he took to so much glory.
“He remains a living legend of French football and is our top scorer, but we prefer not to think too much about that,” said Giroud. “Thierry Henry has given great service to the French team, and now he has begun a new coaching career.”
“There is a lot of mutual respect. He is lucky to work with a nation like Belgium.”
Later on Sunday, Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen gave his perspective on Henry’s impact.
“He brings a lot of experience,” the 32-year-old center back said. “He has won the Euros, he has won the World Cup, so for us, it is very important.”
“A lot of players look up to him because he is a legend in football, you can see he can give us, especially the strikers, a lot of inside information that helps.”
When asked whether that inside information extends to any special insight into the French set-up, Vermaelen said Henry is a good source to tap.
“I feel like he is our side, so I don’t think he will hesitate to give us that information.”
Speaking at the French training base in the town of Istra, northwest of Moscow, the 31-year-old Giroud said he expects Belgium to prove a tough test, and that the days of France’s clear superiority are in the past.
“The balance of power has found an equilibrium, in my opinion. The Belgians have a good team, but we do too,” said the veteran who began France’s opener against Australia on the bench, but has been selected by manager Didier Deschamps to start every game since.
“They have played together for years, so they have (developed) automatic reflexes. They are a very good generation of players, which has reached maturity.”
“For me, it will be 50-50. It will require efficiency and a clever approach to destabilize them.”
Still searching for his first goal of the Russia World Cup, Giroud said his task will only become more difficult against his Chelsea teammate and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
The 199-cm 26-year-old has been Belgium’s chief custodian in the vast majority of its ongoing 24-game streak of matches without a loss and has been one of the top keepers of Russia 2018.
“Thibaut Courtois, as a last barrier, is difficult to deceive,” said Giroud. “He has been very good since the start of the World Cup. He also has a strong defense in front of him, but we will have to succeed in breaching the wall.”
With their Russia World Cup lives on the line on Tuesday, Giroud believes France will prevail because Deschamps, himself a World Cup champion captain with France, has instilled a “culture of winning.”
“He is a competitor. Tactically, we work well against our opposition,” said Giroud of Deschamps.
“The coach gives us all the keys, we just have to put them to use on the pitch.”