Olivier Giroud, Zdenek Ondrasek and Kieffer Moore: the Euro 2020 unlikely lads
France, the Czech Republic and Wales each had their own unsung striker to thank for their latest qualification victories
Zdenek Ondrasek had been an international footballer for just 20 minutes when he made history. The shaven-headed striker, all composure and carefully applied power when his big moment arrived, brought to an end a 10-year record.
England had not lost a qualifier for a major competition in all that time until, at 1-1 in the Czech Republic on Friday, they met Ondrasek, a journeyman, a debutant the wrong side of 30, a second-half substitute – and suddenly, with a firm sweep of his right foot, a jubilant matchwinner.
Kieffer Moore, meanwhile, was in the 25th minute of his competitive international career when he provided the emphatic punchline to a personal fairytale.
Moore had been surprisingly chosen at centre-forward for Wales in Slovakia, instructed by his manager Ryan Giggs to “be a nuisance,” use his six-foot-five to occupy defenders, and see what might rattle down from the high branches for Daniel James, of Manchester United, or Gareth Bale, of Real Madrid, to make use of.
Moore, of Wigan Athletic and formerly of Truro City, went one better. His first international goal, a header, in Wales’s 1-1 draw has kept their options of automatic qualification for Euro 2020 alive.
It has been a good few days for the 'nuisance' striker, the unsung target-man, the late-blossoming outsider.
To the list of unlikely Czech and Welsh heroes might be added the far more famous name of Olivier Giroud.
Giroud is proud world champion, though in France, there is a lingering idea he had some luck to call himself that. Last summer in Russia, Giroud was Les Bleus' starting centre-forward for six World Cup games out of seven: he scored no goals.
This season, Giroud has zero league goals for his club, Chelsea, where he appears to rank as low as third-choice striker, behind the emerging Tammy Abraham and even beneath Michy Batshuayi. Giroud has played a mere 17 minutes of club football since August.
Yet France picked him to start at home to Iceland on Friday, and, as a stubborn Icelandic defence held out well beyond the opening hour, ended up thankful they had.
Antoine Griezmann won a penalty with 25 minutes to go, and, injured in the foul, felt unable to take it. Giroud stepped forward and converted.
The 1-0 win allows France to breathe easier about their qualification as they prepare to take on group leaders Turkey tomorrow.
Giroud will be relieved. He had valiantly fulfilled his main task, winning headers –10 duels went his way against the physically imposing Icelandics – without much additional va-va-voom.
He knows he will never be the most fashionable footballer in a France built around Griezmann, of Barcelona, and, usually, the precocious Kylian Mbappe, of PSG. But he is a survivor, a footballer who only debuted for his country at 25 yet has stealthily endured.
Friday's goal puts him within four of reaching Michel Platini’s France milestone of 41. Only Thierry Henry has more.
“I know exactly what Olivier is capable of,” said Didier Deschamps, the France coach, of his loyalty to Giroud. “He will always produce, even if he hasn’t had much playing time. He’s the logical choice.”
Clement Lenglet, his team-mate, praised Giroud as ‘hyper-useful’. If that description sounds like it might better apply to a domestic appliance, Giroud will recognise its intention.
His career is actually peppered with some wonderful, instinctive volleys, but he will always be appreciated more for what he does with his back to goal and in the combat zones of the penalty area. Giroud, 33, is a 'hyper-useful' role-model for the game's late-comers.
Players such as the Czech Ondrasek, who turns 31 this year, and was called up for the England fixture from faraway Dallas, latest stop in a career wrought out of spells in Poland and the Norwegian second division.
Wales’s Moore, 26, might also take inspiration from the Giroud textbook. Moore's awkward, skyscraper height and bravery in the air are his chief assets. He has hunger, too.
Until well into his 20s Moore was combining work as a lifeguard with his football for non-league clubs in the south of England. On Sunday, in Cardiff, he will be taking on a Croatia led by Luka Modric, holder of the Ballon D’Or.
Updated: October 13, 2019 02:16 PM