France head coach Didier Deschamps is focused on the present and not concerned by the future after calling up Olivier Giroud to replace Karim Benzema.

Giroud has not featured for Les Blues since their exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 last June, but the 35-year-old has come back into contention after an injury to Benzema.

The Milan striker sits just five goals behind Thierry Henry in France's all-time scoring charts after netting 46 times in 110 games.

Though Giroud was omitted from Deschamps' recent squads, he now has a chance to impress in friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

Deschamps, speaking at Monday's news conference, was keen to turn the attention away from Giroud as he insisted the former Arsenal and Chelsea forward does not have to prove himself.

"The most important thing for me is to be consistent and fair in my speech with the players, whether it's Olivier or others," he told reporters.

"Olivier is going to join us, and he doesn't have to do more or less. He was part of this team that was successful, it was also without him, and he remains selectable, as I have always said. 

"But don't ask me about the future. Of course, his presence is linked to Karim's injury. But there is no particular attention around him, he is part of the group."

Asked whether Benzema and Giroud could feature together down the line, Deschamps added: "It's not a question of relationships, there's competition, too, but it goes further than that. 

"History shows it is always a great difficulty for a player who has a status that he deserved to have, to no longer have this status. 

"It is very difficult to live with, not to say impossible. But it's human and it's not specific to Olivier. It's more complex. I did not call him to tell him that he will have 30 per cent playing time and see how he reacts. 

"He can accept anything, it's only ten days, but again, I don't want to make a case apart, and there have been quite a few in this case. 

"A player who has status needs to have an important role. I am convinced of that."

Arsenal's William Saliba, who is currently on loan at Marseille, has also been handed a late call-up after Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard withdrew.

"We have been following him for a while, I talk a lot with Sylvain Ripoll [France's Under-21 coach], who has known since the weekend, just in case," Deschamps said of Saliba. 

"The schedule meant that William was playing last night [Sunday], so I waited until after the match to make his call-up official, but what he does in the Under-23s and for his club, in a system that is not identical but similar, is interesting. 

"He is a good defender, fast, who has a good heading game, and exudes a lot of calmness in his play."

Deschamps stressed that France's upcoming friendlies are important, while he was glad to not be in the position of Portugal and Italy, who will battle for World Cup qualification in the play-offs.

"I know that many players have had very important matches before and will have very important ones after," he added. "It will be full in Marseille, full in Lille, and it is our duty to be efficient. 

"You think that these two friendlies have little value, but I know very well that we have to win them, because otherwise, they will increase in importance. 

"And I prefer to be in my place than in the place of my Italian and Portuguese counterparts. I am happy to be among the 14 nations that have already qualified [for Qatar]!"

Olivier Giroud has been handed a recall by France and a chance to put himself firmly back in Didier Deschamps' World Cup plans.

The Milan striker has not featured in a match for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

He has 46 goals for his country in 110 games, which puts him only five strikes behind Thierry Henry on the team's all-time list.

It appeared Giroud's international career might be over as coach Deschamps opted against calling him into recent squads.

However, a calf injury sustained by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, ruling him out of Sunday's game against Barcelona, has led to Giroud landing a summons to join up with France for the upcoming friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

The French Football Federation announced the news on its website, adding that the France staff wished Benzema "a swift recovery".

Deschamps spoke about Giroud after excluding him from a 23-player squad on Thursday, pointing to the 35-year-old's impressive form for Milan.

Giroud has helped Milan top Serie A, scoring eight goals in 20 games in the league, ahead of Saturday's trip to face Cagliari.

Assessing Giroud, Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

Now, though, Giroud comes into the picture once again, eight months out from the World Cup in Qatar.

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France boss Didier Deschamps insisted his decision to drop Kurt Zouma was "only a sporting choice" and not linked to an incident that saw the defender appear to attack a pet cat.

Zouma was called up for World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Finland in November but was notably absent when Deschamps named his latest squad on Thursday.

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA has begun the process of bringing a prosecution against the West Ham player and his brother Yoan after video footage emerged of the alleged attack on the cat in February.

Zouma has continued to be selected by West Ham boss David Moyes in spite of public outrage, although the 27-year-old has been fined "the maximum amount possible" – reported to be £250,000 – and has apologised.

Deschamps was asked about the reason for leaving Zouma out of his plans for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa, and stressed he had not taken off-field factors into account.

"I don't know if it's a strong choice," he said of Zouma's omission. "I don't know, because I haven't called him up systematically.

"In November, he came because Raphael Varane was injured. This remains a sporting choice, only sporting, as with all the choices I make.

"I've had him on the telephone and spoken with him about this affair, but I'm not going to go back over that. I've spoken about it. It remains solely a sporting choice."

Zouma started four games for France in 2021 but was often not actively involved, as Deschamps indicated.

There was also no room in France's latest 23-player group for Olivier Giroud, despite the veteran striker helping Milan lead the way in the Serie A title race.

Giroud has not featured for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

The head coach handed first call-ups to RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku and Lens defender Jonathan Clauss, saying he had been impressed with their club performances and adding: "I think now is the right time to have a look at them."

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France squad: Areola (West Ham), Lloris (Tottenham), Maignan (Milan); Clauss (Lens), Digne (Aston Villa), L Hernandez (Bayern Munich), T Hernandez (Milan), Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Kounde (Sevilla), Pavard (Bayern Munich), Varane (Manchester United); Guendouzi (Marseille), Kante (Chelsea), Pogba (Manchester United), Rabiot (Juventus), Tchouameni (Monaco); Ben Yedder (Monaco), Benzema (Real Madrid), Coman (Bayern Munich), Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Nkunku (RB Leipzig).

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted that his side cannot be "obsessed with the past" as they battle to win Serie A, which no team has "managed to run away".

The Rossoneri climbed back to the summit with a 1-0 victory at fellow title contenders Napoli last time out, but could be leapfrogged by second-placed Inter, who have a game in hand.

Milan next host Empoli, who they have won their past two top-flight meetings against, and Pioli demanded his team take each game as it comes ahead of the clash on Saturday.

However, Pioli's men have won only two of their past six Serie A meetings with sides in the bottom half of the table, drawing their previous two against Salernitana and Udinese.

"We are satisfied, but it was not the final step," Pioli said of the win over Napoli at Friday's pre-match news conference. "The last step is the next game.

"We should not be obsessed with the past, every game is different. We must play with continuity, quality and rhythm to highlight our qualities.

"It's been a strange season. Nobody has managed to run away. I still think that the top five teams can win many games. Serie A is very difficult."

 

When asked if he was concerned about the run of Juventus, who are unbeaten in 14 Serie A games and sit just seven adrift of the leaders, Pioli responded: "I am concerned about Empoli, we saw what happened in the reverse fixture, they created problems for us, so we must play well.

"Players don't need my intervention to know how important tomorrow's game is. The experience of the past was useful, but we should not look back.

"Empoli are a dynamic squad. It's not easy to press them, we need to understand the right moment. Psychologically, we know which problems we'll face, but we are determined.

"Empoli are a team with many solutions up top. They have quality and are really close to reaching their target so compliments to them."

Olivier Giroud was the difference against Napoli, with his eighth league goal separating the two title challengers. The striker will now be aiming to become the third Frenchman in Serie A to score 10-plus goals in a single campaign for Milan, after Jean-Pierre Papin (13 goals in 1992/93) and Jeremy Menez (16 in 2014/15).

Pioli was also boosted by the return of the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Luciano Spalletti's men and he spoke glowingly of his two veteran forwards.

"I like everything about Giroud, the way he helps the team, how he handles the pressure," he added. "He is a very serene and determined person and it's a pleasure to work with him.

"Zlatan gives a lot to the team in everything he does. He is a smart player. He knows when to attack the space or drop deep. He is feeling happy. Surely he will help us."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli thinks Inter remain Scudetto favourites despite seeing his Rossoneri side beat Napoli 1-0 to go top of Serie A on Sunday.

Both teams knew they could breathe new life into their respective title challenges with a win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but it was the visitors who left with the victory.

Olivier Giroud's instinctive finish early in the second half following Davide Calabria's wayward shot proved decisive, that goal being enough to return Milan to the summit with 60 points, two clear of Inter.

But Inter do still have a game in hand, and as such Pioli recognises the defending champions have to still be considered the team to beat.

Speaking to DAZN after the game, Pioli said: "For sure, we've not done as well against the so-called smaller teams, however, we won't have many direct clashes [with title rivals].

"But since the calendar tells us we have many of these games to come, honestly we have to do more.

"It is clear that there are difficulties for everyone, we are not a perfect team. We have to show that we have learned the lessons [against lesser sides]. Attitude and quality will be important in the next matches.

"The favourites are still Inter. Inter are a very strong team and the standings are still virtual. I'm sorry that there are games left over to be played, it would be more correct if we had all played the same number of games at this point in the championship.

"We have to concentrate on getting a lot of points."

Giroud once again proved his value to Milan, with the Frenchman scoring his eighth Serie A goal despite starting just 12 games.

There were many who questioned his signing when Milan spent just €1million in acquiring him from Chelsea at the start of the season, but for Pioli there was never any doubt what Giroud could add.

"My idea and the club's idea was to include players of experience, who had already won something, who know what it means to work to win," Pioli added.

"There is always a great need for people with stature. A video call was enough for us to understand what a professional he was.

"The more players with charisma and personality you have – especially for us who have a very young team – the better."

Olivier Giroud provided the decisive touch as Milan claimed a potentially vital victory in the Serie A title race, beating fellow Scudetto hopefuls Napoli 1-0 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Milan's record in Naples is dreadful, having gone into Sunday's clash with one win in their most recent 14 visits, but the rare success here put them back to the top of the table.

Both teams had penalty shouts controversially turned down inside the opening 15 minutes, though otherwise there were few major flashpoints in an even first half.

Proceedings opened up following Giroud's 49th-minute poacher's effort, yet Milan held firm to leave with a valuable win that puts them three points clear of Napoli and two ahead of Inter.

A ferocious start saw Amir Rrahmani blaze over from inside the box for the hosts and Milan's Ismael Bennacer have a penalty claim ignored after being nudged over by Kalidou Koulibaly inside the first five minutes.

Napoli then thought they were unfairly denied a spot-kick soon after, with Victor Osimhen seemingly tripped from behind by Fikayo Tomori in the box.

A closely contested first half finished goalless and the breakthrough arrived soon after the restart, Giroud instinctively turning in Davide Calabria's wayward shot.

Napoli substitute Adam Ounas almost levelled with 15 minutes to go when his curling left-footed effort went agonisingly wide.

Osimhen tested Mike Maignan from a tight angle following a surging run, and that proved to be the final chance for the hosts, who were fortunate not to concede again in stoppage time when Alexis Saelemaekers wasted a glorious opportunity.

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like "a lion in a cage" in his quest to return from injury, but revealed he will not be available for Milan's Coppa Italia quarter-final showdown with Lazio.

His side's top scorer in Serie A this season with eight goals, Ibrahimovic is currently sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, having limped off during the first half of last month's stalemate with Juventus.

The 40-year-old's absence was evident for most of last weekend's derby with Inter; the Rossoneri registering just one shot on goal until Olivier Giroud's quickfire double completed a dramatic turnaround.

Milan welcome Lazio to San Siro in the last eight of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, although it comes too soon for Ibrahimovic.

But Pioli insists the striker is doing everything in his power to return as soon as possible.

"Zlatan is a lion in a cage," he told Sportmediaset. "His motivation is to help the team on the pitch. 

"Tomorrow, he won't be [available]; we'll see for the next ones."

Pioli also praised the contribution of Giroud, who has drawn criticism from some sections despite taking his tally to seven for the campaign with that derby brace, while also becoming the first Frenchman to net twice against Inter in Serie A.

When asked whether his display against the Nerazzurri deflected the criticism, the head coach said: "I don't know, the detractors are always there. What matters is the trust we have. 

"He is proving to be the footballer for whom he was purchased. [He is] a valuable player and a person of great depth who is making a great contribution to the team."

 

Olivier Giroud declared that Milan "are back" after inspiring their comeback win in the derby with Inter.

Giroud scored twice to cut Inter's lead at the top of Serie A to one point - though the Nerazzurri do have a game in hand - in a 2-1 win for the Rossoneri, who had fallen behind to Ivan Perisic's first-half volley.

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blemish a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

"As I said before the game, this was a special fixture. You win the derby, we were struggling in the first half, but after the break for 45 minutes we got back into it," Giroud told DAZN.

"I was hoping for one or two balls into the box, the first was a bit lucky, but the second was a fine [Davide] Calabria pass.

"I am so happy for my fans, I am proud of this team that never gave up.

"We score goals in the box, so it's true I was a bit isolated in the first half, but the whole team didn't play well and we knew that.

"We proved our great team spirit after the break and we are back!

"There's a long road ahead of us, we are still in the running, but there are many games to be played and Inter remain the leaders.

"So let’s win our matches and then see what Inter do."

October 17, 2020. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's double proved enough for Milan to claim a derby day victory over their great rivals, with Romelu Lukaku's goal not enough to inspire a comeback.

Much has changed in the intervening period between then and now.

Inter recovered from that defeat by going on to win the Serie A title for the first time since 2010. Yet coach Antonio Conte and talisman Lukaku have both departed for pastures new – London, to be precise, with Tottenham and Chelsea respectively.

Milan, meanwhile, finished second, 12 points behind their neighbours, but they have had a relatively settled period under Stefano Pioli. And on Saturday, the Rossoneri truly ignited the 2021-22 title race by ending Inter's domestic unbeaten streak at San Siro – a run that stretched to 28 matches in total, since that day in October 2020.

There was no Ibrahimovic for Pioli to call on this time, but another veteran forward stepped up in the form of Olivier Giroud, whose quickfire double did the damage.

Having been on the verge of going seven points clear, the incredible turnaround leaves Inter just one point above Milan, as the title battle between the two northern powerhouses looks set to go down to the wire.

Giroud brings the Z factor

Ibrahimovic is a big miss in any game, but in particular, a derby with title hopes resting on it.

The 40-year-old has scored eight Serie A goals in Milan Derbies (six for AC Milan, two for Inter) – only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more times in this fixture in the history of the competition.

For much of Saturday's clash – 75 minutes, in fact – the void in Milan's attack was evident, the Rossoneri having managed just one attempt on target, from Sandro Tonali in the first half.

But Giroud turned that on its head, first showing his poacher's instinct to prod in from Brahim Diaz's shot-cross, before holding off his marker and drilling in a low strike on the turn three minutes later.

Samir Handanovic should have done better to prevent Milan's winner, mind. Perhaps the Inter goalkeeper had been caught unawares, given his lack of action prior to the late red-and-black charge.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud said of Ibrahimovic in a recent interview.

"It's an opportunity to have him as my partner, to learn something more. He's an example for many strikers and when I was young I loved him, both on the pitch and for his strong character, and for the fact that he's demanding every day.  It's a healthy competition between us."

Giroud proved an old dog can still learn new tricks (from an older dog, that is) with his match-winning turn. The former Chelsea forward converted both of his two attempts, which came from two of his four touches in the penalty area, and a combined expected goals (xG) value of 0.8, as he became the first French player to score twice against Inter in a Serie A match.

All seven of Giroud's Serie A goals this season have come at San Siro, with those strikes coming only when he has started games (eight starts in total).

 

Inter's charge hits its first hurdle?

There has been a pretty seamless transition for Inter since Simone Inzaghi replaced Antonio Conte.

Edin Dzeko has come in for Lukaku, and Lautaro Martinez is still brilliant. Indeed, Inter are scoring at a similar rate to last season, netting on average every 38 minutes in the league.

Yet they more than met their match in the form of Milan, who earned a thrilling 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in November.

Inter had less possession (46 per cent) and won fewer duels (42 compared to 57), yet still created more chances (nine to seven) and had more attempts (11 to 10). They were unable to make the most of going ahead, though.

 

Ivan Perisic's goal – his 50th for the club – had the Nerazzurri in front by half-time but Inter have now failed to win three of their last four derby clashes, while Milan came from behind to beat them in Serie A for the first time since February 2004.

This result can hardly be considered as putting Inter into anything resembling a crisis. They have lost just two of their last 12 Serie A derbies and are still top, with a game in hand on their title rivals, though the manner of the defeat may take some coming back from.

Since the turn of the year, Inter have taken seven of the 12 points on offer and, in a title race with such fine margins (Napoli are only four points back in third), that has enabled the challengers to gain ground.

One positive for Inter, however, was a late red card for Theo Hernandez, who will face a suspension after lunging in recklessly on Denzel Dumfries.

Hernandez is one of Milan's best players, and his absence may just mean that, even though Inter lost the battle, they could go on to win the war provided they bounce back quickly.

Olivier Giroud scored a quickfire late double to earn Milan a dramatic 2-1 win over Inter at San Siro that moves his side within a point of the Serie A leaders.

Milan had taken just one point from their previous two matches and were on the verge of losing again as Ivan Perisic's first-half volley had Inter firmly in control of Saturday's clash.

But Mike Maignan ensured the designated visitors were not out of the game and, from pretty much out of nowhere, Milan caught Inter cold thanks to Giroud's double. 

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blot a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

Denzel Dumfries had an early goal ruled out for offside and was later denied from a one-on-one by Maignan, who was also equal to Marcelo Brozovic's deflected drive.

Samir Handanovic was also needed to deny Sandro Tonali, but the breakthrough arrived in the 38th minute when Perisic volleyed in ex-Milan winger Calhanoglu's corner.

Stefano Pioli turned to Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz in the second half but Milan continued to pose little attacking threat until a dramatic final quarter to the game.

Giroud slid in to convert Diaz's deflected shot, though Inter were unhappy the goal was allowed to stand as the goalscorer clattered into Alexis Sanchez at the start of the move.

Inter failed to compose themselves and conceded another almost instantly as Giroud held off Stefan de Vrij and fired in a shot that squirmed under the hand of Handanovic.

Theo Hernandez was dismissed deep into added time for a rash challenge on Dumfries, though Milan saw out a huge win that keeps the Scudetto race wide open.

Olivier Giroud is enjoying his "healthy competition" with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and says his Milan team-mate is pushing him to become a better player.

Ibrahimovic has made a big impact in his second spell with Milan since returning to the club in January 2020, scoring 36 goals in 66 appearances in all competitions.

That includes a return of 33 goals in 52 Serie A outings, which is the eighth-most of any player in the division over that period.

He has been restricted to just 12 starts in all competitions this campaign, but he has again proved his worth by finding the net eight times.

With his strike against Udinese in December, Ibrahimovic joined Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in scoring 300 career league goals across Europe's top five divisions.

Amid reports in Italy that Milan are prepared to offer him another contract until the end of next season, Giroud is grateful he has the chance to learn from the 40-year-old.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud told the Colinterview - Oh my Goal YouTube channel. 

"It's an opportunity to have him as my partner, to learn something more. 

"He's an example for many strikers and when I was young I loved him, both on the pitch and for his strong character, and for the fact that he's demanding every day. 

"It's a healthy competition between us."

 

Giroud has made a steady enough start to life at San Siro after joining from Chelsea last July with six goals and one assist in his first 20 appearances, 11 of those being starts.

Those six goals have come at a rate of 0.46 per 90 minutes, a tally bettered only by Ibrahimovic (0.67) among Milan players.

The former Chelsea striker has spent various spells on the sidelines through injury and illness but now feels ready to start contributing more as Milan target a Scudetto success.

"I had some unusual physical problems. I got COVID in September after what was a good start, and then I had back problems," he said. 

"I forced it too hard and got hurt after testing negative. I was in the squad for Liverpool, played and got hurt. The pain lasted six weeks and I didn't play for a while. 

"After that, I had ankle and ischium problems for a month. In the meantime, I did everything to keep fit, I took all preventive measures.

"But now I feel very good and have the possibility to play without pain. That is a luxury when you are a professional player and above all, when you're 35."

Milan moved within one point of the Serie A summit with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Jose Mourinho's lacklustre Roma side at San Siro, who were reduced to nine men in the second half.

First-half goals from Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias put the hosts in a commanding position before Tammy Abraham dragged Roma back into the contest. 

After a string of Mike Maignan saves kept the hosts' lead intact, Rick Karsdorp's sending-off for two bookable offences put paid to any hope of Roma earning a point, and substitute Rafeal Leao added a third on the break late on before Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a penalty following another red card, this time for Gianluca Mancini.

Milan were handed a brilliant start, with Giroud dispatching an eighth-minute penalty after Abraham was adjudged to have handled Theo Hernandez's fierce volley. 

Things quickly went from bad to worse for Mourinho's men. Giroud intercepted a dreadful backpass from Roger Ibanez, and although his strike came back off the post, Messias buried the rebound to double the hosts' lead after just 15 minutes.

The 2-1 half-time scoreline arguably flattered Roma, who found themselves back in the contest when Abraham diverted Lorenzo Pellegrini's shot past Maignan, seconds after being denied by the France international's reflex save.

Milan almost made another fast start in the second period, with Brahim Diaz crashing a fabulous effort against the bar on 50 minutes, before Maignan was forced into two more good saves by Abraham and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

With 20 minutes remaining, the already-booked Karsdrop received his marching orders for a desperate lunch on Hernandez on the edge of the penalty area, killing the visitors' hopes of leaving with a result. 

Alessandro Florenzi rattled the bar from the resulting free-kick, before Leao, returning from injury as a substitute, finished the contest with a late breakaway goal, his sixth of the season.

That was not the end of the drama, with Roma's Mancini joining Karsdrop for an early bath by bringing down Leao. Ibrahimovic, however, saw his penalty saved by Rui Patricio, maintaining some respectability for Mourinho's side.

 

What does it mean? Milan apply early 2022 pressure to Inter

Thanks to a raft of COVID-19 cases and Africa Cup of Nations call-ups, Stefano Pioli was forced to select a makeshift side, but they produced a largely accomplished display to move within a single point of cross-city rivals Inter in the title race.

Milan have also now won three consecutive league games against Roma for the first time since 1996.

Mourinho's men stay seventh, six points outside the top four.

Home comforts for Giroud

Former Arsenal and Chelsea man Giroud opened the scoring with his fifth league goal of the campaign, and all of the World Cup winner's strikes for Milan have come at San Siro.

Among all the other players to have netted five or more goals in a top-five European League this season, only Bruno Fernandes and Mattia Aramu have also scored all of theirs at home.

Milan press home their superiority

Pioli has masterminded Milan's title charge by implementing an exhilarating, high-pressing game at San Siro, forcing opponents into errors in perilous positions. 

Going into this game, no Serie A team had attempted more than the Rossoneri's tally of 37 shots from high turnovers this season. This quality was on display once again, with Messias' crucial second goal originating from Giroud intercepting Ibanez's slack pass.

What's next?

Notwithstanding a continuation of the coronavirus-caused chaos that has engulfed Serie A this week, Milan travel to Venezia for Sunday's early kick-off, while Roma face a huge clash with Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico later that day.

Olivier Giroud has questioned why Didier Deschamps did not give France's senior players any advance notice of Karim Benzema's return from international exile.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was named in France's Euro 2020 squad in May following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by head coach Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema has strenuously denied he was complicit in attempted blackmail.

Looking to bolster his attacking options, Deschamps decided the time was right to bring back Benzema ahead of the European Championship, but Giroud believes the move proved unsettling to France's established way of playing.

Giroud has not featured for France since their last-16 elimination at Euro 2020, when the World Cup winners bowed out on penalties to Switzerland, and it remains to be seen whether the 35-year-old's international career is over.

Addressing Benzema's surprise return, Giroud told L'Equipe: "[It] created a tactical imbalance at the team level and in the way we play. I say this frankly, and without anything against Karim.

"The France team was able to overcome this problem of tactical adaptation much later. We have seen this, especially with the Nations League [which France won in October].

"But it took a long time. Karim quickly changed our way of playing which had been well established with certain offensive profiles for five years.

"The mix didn't work overnight, especially before a competition like the Euros."

Commenting on Deschamps' decision to seemingly spring the selection on the rest of the players, Giroud said: "It was the will of the coach to proceed like that.

"He preferred that it not be heard. I can understand it. Now who am I in his eyes for him to call me first? He is the sole decision-maker.

"But I would have appreciated being warned, that he warned certain senior figures."

Giroud is second on the list of France's all-time leading scorers, netting 46 goals, of which 45 have come during Deschamps' nine years at the helm.

Only Thierry Henry (51) has more goals for France than the former Chelsea and Arsenal forward, who is now at Milan.

He was absent from the squad that won the Nations League, when Benzema and Kylian Mbappe scored in the final against Spain.

"It was a weird feeling, even though I was happy for the guys in front of my TV," Giroud said. "It's hard not to experience that with this squad that I have known for a long time, and with whom I have shared so many beautiful things. Like any sensitive person, I had a twinge in my heart."

Didier Deschamps has told his France players to end their year of mixed fortunes on a high note as the World Cup holders attempt to seal their Qatar 2022 place.

A dismal Euro 2020 effort, where pre-tournaments favourites France were knocked out in round two by Switzerland, was followed in October by Les Bleus winning the Nations League.

Now they can make sure of a return to the biggest stage as the final internationals of the year loom. France have a home game against Kazakhstan on November 13 and go away to Finland three days later. If they beat Kazakhstan, their place in next year's finals will be secure.

Deschamps wants that put to bed as soon as possible, saying: "You know what happened this summer, with our early elimination at the Euros. That didn't stop us from doing good things with the joy of winning the Nations League.

"If you add in the qualifiers, that made it three goals for us in the same year, which is rare.

"Let's make sure we get two out of three to have the peace of mind to go into next year, which will be a special year with the World Cup in November."

There were no great surprises in Deschamps' 23-player squad, which was revealed on Thursday, with veteran striker Olivier Giroud not yet back in favour. The 35-year-old striker, who sits second on France's all-time list of leading scorers, last featured in the penalty shoot-out defeat to the Swiss in Bucharest back in June.

 

Deschamps said Giroud, who is building up his fitness at Milan, is "doing some interesting things" when he plays with the Rossoneri. He started against Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday evening.

"He is not there, but he is one of the serious candidates," Deschamps said. "I can only encourage him to keep doing what he does very well."

West Ham defender Kurt Zouma earns a recall after impressing since leaving Chelsea for their London rivals, and he was joined by Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who is on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and has yet to feature in the Premier League this season. He comes in for the injured Mike Maignan.

Manchester United's Anthony Martial and Raphael Varane miss out, with the former coming back from injury and the latter newly sidelined with a hamstring problem.

 

France squad: Alphonse Areola (West Ham, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain), Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham); Lucas Digne (Everton), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Kurt Zouma (West Ham); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille, on loan from Arsenal), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

Stefano Pioli is eager to take positives from Milan's second-half performance against Porto ahead of this weekend's huge Derby della Madonnina clash with Inter.

Milan ended a club-record run of five successive defeats in the Champions League with a 1-1 draw against Primeira Liga leaders Porto at San Siro on Wednesday.

That solitary Group B point after four matches all but ends the Rossoneri's hopes of qualifying for the last 16, though, as they must win both remaining games and hope other results go their way.

Pioli's side fell behind to a Luis Diaz strike with just five minutes and two seconds on the clock – the second-fastest goal they have conceded at home in the Champions League.

Porto looked a lot sharper and should have doubled their lead when Evanilson headed against the crossbar, but Milan earned a point through Chancel Mbemba's comical own goal.

Despite remaining bottom of the group, Pioli is remaining upbeat with his side flying high in Serie A ahead of the showdown with rivals and reigning champions Inter.

"The signs are positive for us, even if the team is disappointed," he told Amazon Prime. "We wanted to find our first victory in the Champions League. 

"It is true that their pressure was strong in the first half. In the second half we did better. We moved better and their intensity in the pressure dropped.

"It is clear that conceding a goal like we did influenced our way of playing. I can't say much about the second half, especially in terms of our aggression. 

"Porto are a strong team, who last year eliminated Juventus. The level in this competition is very high. To win in the Champions League you have to deserve it. 

"The next game will be just as difficult. Inter deservedly won the championship and remain favourites to retain the title. 

"We will have to play a high level match, but we have the opportunity to do well."

Milan have won just one of their past 11 Champions League games, whereas Porto have now lost just one in nine in the group stage.

The Portuguese side had a three-day gap between their 4-1 win against Boavista and the game at San Siro, compared to a couple of days off for Milan following their win at Roma.

That was also the case prior to last month's reverse fixture, which Porto won 1-0.

"They played a day before us twice in a row," Pioli said. "If you have seven or eight days to recover it doesn't make a difference.

"But if you have three instead of four in a period where you play seven times in 21 days, it can make a difference."

Olivier Giroud was selected ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top for Milan but could not find a way through as his scoreless run in the competition stretched to 326 minutes.

At 35 years, Giroud was the oldest member of Milan's line-up and feels a lack of experience has perhaps cost his side in Europe this term.

"We're a young team but I don't want to make excuses," he told Canal+. "We also needed a little more luck. We have played some good matches in the group.

"It's tough against teams who are used to Champions League football like Porto or Atletico. Experience is important.

"Now we've got the derby with Inter and we will look to come back with the same energy and desire for that game."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.