- Gouiri essential for French attack in 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia
- Forward only recently recovered from a serious knee injury
- “Playing in this World Cup was a goal of mine”
Anyone watching Amine Gouiri help France defeat ten-man Saudi Arabia on Saturday may have the impression that scoring a goal and serving up an assist was just an everyday occurrence for the young No9.
After all, his celebration of his late strike was muted to say the least. In reflecting on it in a post-match interview with FIFA.com, the Olympique Lyonnais forward admitted to a mix of strong yet conflicting emotions that he felt compelled to conceal, having spent most of the season nursing a knee injury that at one stage looked as if it would deny him a place at Poland 2019.
Can do better
“I’m disappointed,” said an underwhelmed Bernard Diomede, speaking at the press conference that followed the match. The France coach was disappointed to see Boubakary Soumare hobble off with an injury 15 minutes into the game, and would have liked to have seen his players do more with their 68 per cent of possession and 17 shots – five of them on target.
That disappointment did not extend, however, to his assessment of Gouiri. The Lyon front man set up Youssouf Fofana for a 43rd-minute strike that allowed Les Bleuets to dispel a few doubts before the break. His goal, which Diomede described as a “half-chance,” put something of a gloss on an important if not entirely impressive win.
“He’s an out-and-out goalscorer,” said the coach, a FIFA World Cup™ winner in 1998. “That’s a rare quality. And he’s a nice kid so I’m very happy for him. He’s really worked hard to recover in time and be with us at this World Cup. He’s risen to the challenge.”
Gouiri was one of the architects of France’s qualification for Poland 2019, scoring four goals at last year’s UEFA European Under-19 Championship. Disaster then struck for the youngster, when he crumpled to the ground in a training session with his club, as he explained to FIFA.com: “I injured myself, just putting my foot down on the ground.”
The diagnosis was a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee. Following immediate surgery, Gouiri then embarked on the long road to recovery, a journey that took him over six months to complete.
“It was a really tough time for me,” he said. “I had to sit on my sofa doing nothing for ten whole days and then start doing rehab.”
The support of a champion
Throughout his long injury layoff, the rising star had the valuable support of a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia winner.
“Nabil Fekir had the same injury as me," said Gouiri. "He’s the Lyon captain and we’re very close, so he gave me a lot of support and advice on making the best possible recovery and getting back to top form.”
Gouiri played the full 90 minutes of France’s Poland 2019 opener and led the line with distinction, his hard work, patience and Fekir’s recommendations clearly paying dividends: “To begin with, I didn’t think about it too much, but the closer I got to returning, the more it became my goal to play at this World Cup.”
The scorer of five goals at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, Gouiri is growing accustomed to excelling on the global stage. With his injury now behind him, the Lyon man is focused on nothing but the quest for goals, a commodity crucial to the state of mind and form of any self-respecting striker.