ISTRA, Russia (Reuters) - France will go into their World Cup semi-final against neighbors Belgium with a “hunger to win” and a desire to show their 1998 World Cup winner Thierry Henry that he picked the wrong side, forward Olivier Giroud said on Sunday.
Retired French striker Henry is now a member of the Belgian coaching staff. The two sides will meet on Tuesday to decide who plays in July 15’s World Cup final.
“It is bizarre to have Thierry against us in this match,” Giroud told reporters. “I would be very proud to show Thierry that he chose the wrong camp.”
Both teams have earned their billing as pre-tournament favorites, with France ousting Uruguay in the last eight and Belgium stunning five-times champions Brazil to book their own semi-final spot.
“I would have preferred to have Henry on our side, to give me and the other French forwards advice, but I am not too jealous,” the 31-year-old Giroud said.
The forward has been criticized by Henry in the past, but he said there were no hard feelings - just his hunger to win.
“It has been a few years since he said what he said about me. My job is to be good on the pitch, to represent France as well as possible. It is also a particular match for him.
“I really want to communicate (to France teammates) my hunger to win.”
The game, as expected, has monopolized the front pages in both countries, complete with references to their long comic book traditions.
“It is more than a match,” Aujourd’hui en France newspaper said on a full front-page spread that featured the two countries’ most beloved comic characters - Tintin for Belgium and Asterix for France.
Le Journal du Dimanche devoted six pages to the Franco-Belgian friendship and rivalry – this time with an excerpt from an Asterix comic book on its front page, while sports daily L’Equipe twisted Tintin’s “Destination Moon” to feature French and Belgian players.
Giroud said his teammates knew Belgium very well with many players from both teams competing in the English Premier League, including himself.
But he said France were talented and experienced enough to break down Belgium’s defensive “wall” around keeper Thibaut Courtois.
“Courtois is difficult to play against. He is very good in this World Cup with a good defense in front of him,” Giroud said. “There will be gaps that will have to be used,” the forward added.
“I am convinced that we will break down this wall.”
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson