Pavard: “France are the team everyone wants to beat in Qatar”
Despite being in the grip of a cold, Benjamin Pavard was in relaxed mood and happy to be back among friends in the France camp when FIFA caught up with him earlier this month at France’s national football centre in Clairefontaine.
Ahead lay Les Bleus’ final two UEFA Nations League matches, which yielded a 2-0 win over Austria and a defeat by the same scoreline to Denmark.
Always direct and to the point, the full-back recalled his finest moments in the France jersey, starting with Russia 2018 and his wonder goal in the 4-3 defeat of Argentina in the last 16. He also looked ahead to Qatar 2022, where he believes France will be the team everyone wants to beat.
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-FIFA: You went down in FIFA World Cup™ history with the magnificent goal you scored against Argentina in the round of 16 at Russia 2018. Can you talk us through it again?
Benjamin Pavard: We were up against it. I saw Blaise [Matuidi] play a long pass out to Lucas [Hernandez], who crossed the ball. I can’t really explain why I was so far up the pitch. Usually, when one full-back pushes forward, the other one stays back, but on that occasion I just had a feeling and got up the pitch. When the ball came to me, I managed to connect with the outside of my foot and put some swerve on it. We all know what happened next.
-Were you surprised to see it voted the goal of the tournament at Russia 2018?
Yes and no. It was an important goal because we went on to win the match. If you score a goal like that and you lose, you don’t savour it as much. I was delighted to get that award, though. It was great to win it, but the most important thing was winning the World Cup with my team-mates.
-You were the first France defender since Lilian Thuram and his brace against Croatia in the semi-finals at France 98 to score at a World Cup. How do you feel about that?
I think I’m a little bit like Lilian. During my time at Stuttgart I played in central defence for them and at right-back for France. He was a role model and a legend. He won trophies for France and wherever he went in his club career. I hope I can have a proper chat with him one day because he’s a great guy.
-Like Thuram, you won the biggest trophy of them all in 2018. How did it feel to lift the Trophy?
Even if I ended up only playing for 30 seconds, I said to myself before the competition that I was at the World Cup and that it might be the only one of my career, so I had to make the most of every moment. In the end, I started the tournament as first choice and I ended it by winning the World Cup. It’s the most beautiful trophy you can win as a footballer, so it was crazy. And then taking the Trophy back to France with all the fans was amazing.
-Just to wrap up our look back at 2018, what was the magic ingredient that helped France go all the way?
Being together every day and having a great atmosphere in the camp and on the pitch. Everyone got on and it was fun. It made the tournament go by pretty quickly and we didn’t have the time to get bored. We know the subs weren’t happy but they didn’t show it. They put everything into training, which really pushed everyone to be at their best. You’re all together for a few weeks at the World Cup, so if things don’t go well it can show on the pitch. But we had a great atmosphere going and that allowed us to go out and play our game.
Your coach Didier Deschamps has been France coach for ten years now…
–Why has he lasted so long in the job?
Because he’s a competitor, as we all are, and he always wants to win. He’s instilled us with his grit and determination and he’s pushed us to achieve. We won the World Cup with him. He’s a great guy. He’s won trophies wherever he’s gone as a player and a coach. He uses really important words in his team talks and he makes everyone want to win and give their all on the pitch.
-Qatar 2022 is coming up fast, but you had a tough year in 2021, when you were in and out of the side in the qualifiers. How do you feel about that time in your life?
I had a tough time with Covid. It was hard for everyone but it was difficult for me in my personal life too. Being abroad on my own was a challenge. I had some mental health issues and that took its toll on the pitch. I wasn’t happy. It was a very difficult time in my life. It’s history now and I’ve learned a lot from that period and I came out of it a better person. As for the qualifying competition, we were the holders, we wanted to qualify and we did it. The key thing was to make it to Qatar. It didn’t really matter how. All you remember in the end are the results. We’re going into the World Cup full of confidence and we hope to go all the way.
-Going all the way is indeed the biggest challenge that awaits Les Bleus at Qatar 2022. No one has retained the Trophy since Brazil did it at Chile 1962.
We know it won’t be easy because we’re the team everyone wants to beat. As the reigning champions, everyone will be gunning for us. We just have to focus on what we do and not the opposition. So no asking questions – just play our football, give it all we’ve got and try to win the World Cup. When you’re at the world finals, you’re there to win. Otherwise what’s the point? You might as well stay at home.
–Your first game in Group D is against Australia on 22 November. Then come Denmark and Tunisia.
We know they won’t be easy matches. People are already saying France are in the last 16, but you have to go out and play the games. We didn’t play amazing football in the group phase in 2018 but we won, went through and we got better as the competition went on. So no asking questions.
Taken from FIFA.com