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May 29, 2014

Time to shine

Olivier Giroud has staked a claim to be France's regular striker at the World Cup.
Olivier Giroud has staked a claim to be France's regular striker at the World Cup.

France got their FIFA World Cup preparations off to an ideal start with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Norway at Stade de France on Tuesday. Olympique de Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena was the star performer on the night -- bagging a hat-trick of assists -- but two of Les Bleus' three goal scorers are not guaranteed a place in coach Didier Deschamps' starting XI when the French kick off their Brazilian campaign against Honduras in Porto Alegre on June 15.

Olivier Giroud netted twice while Loic Remy was also target although the pair are likely to feature from the bench in South America, with Karim Benzema and Valbuena set to be given the nod ahead of them.

Here's a look at three of Les Bleus' hopefuls and how they fared in the first of three warm-up fixtures as we approach the big kick-off.

Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) Season so far: P 51 GLS 26

Giroud was one of a number of France's fringe stars that was handed a chance to impress by Deschamps and he seized it, linking up well with Real Sociedad star Antoine Griezmann to his left, as well as Valbuena on his right. Karim Benzema is still arguably ahead of the former Montpellier HSC man for now, but Arsenal's Giroud has already started to apply pressure on Les Bleus' No. 10 ahead of Sunday's friendly with Paraguay in Nice and next week's final clash with Jamaica in Lille.

The 27-year-old scored two goals in the friendly success on Tuesday night, with his first -- a sumptuous volley -- particularly impressive. Now Giroud needs to maintain this impressive form when the next opportunity presents itself. He will be encouraged by the fact Benzema's struggles to replicate his strong Real Madrid form make it likely that he will be given his chance in Brazil at some point.

Loic Remy (Queens Park Rangers) Season so far: P 26 GLS 15

Remy was another fringe player who grabbed his chance with both hands.

Shortly after coming on to replace Griezmann in the second half, the QPR man scored with a Thierry Henry-esque finish to make it 3-0. Latching on to a through ball from former Newcastle United teammate Mathieu Debuchy, Remy scored with a cool first-time finish from outside of the box.

His and Giroud's goals give Deschamps plenty of food for thought as he tries to make France more prolific ahead of their Brazilian campaign but Remy is actually seen more as a wide man than a central option for Les Tricolores. Therefore, the 27-year-old could find both paths blocked by Mathieu Valbuena, Griezmann and Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery, as well as Benzema and Giroud.

Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad) Season so far: P 43 GLS 19

Griezmann's rapid ascent at international level continues apace as he was handed a second consecutive start in place of Ribery, picking up where he left off against Netherlands in March with another mature display. Prior to the game, there had been suggestions that a good performance from Griezmann could see him tested in place of Valbuena on the right when Ribery returns this weekend.

Instead, the way that it transpired raises more questions over the Bayern man's role in the side than Valbuena's. For now though, Griezmann accepts that he is getting to know the ropes with Les Bleus and will probably not be deemed ready to start at the World Cup. However, it appears to be only a matter of time.

Although it was an excellent collective performance for an opening warm-up match, expectations must be tempered at this point.

The French media are prone to hyperbole in the wake of such comprehensive -- yet ultimately meaningless -- results and Les Bleus are also susceptible to complacency and over-confidence themselves. Deschamps will do his best to ensure that this result does not carry the team away, but the French public's expectations will already be growing after a fifth consecutive home win in all competitions.

The players have managed to successfully harness the momentum built up since their heroic 3-0 win over Ukraine secured their place in Brazil, but assuming that the hard work is already done could see this reinvigorated France side come crashing back down to earth against a relatively unknown Paraguay team on Sunday.