Benjamin Pavard, like Lilian Thuram, scores at World Cup
KAZAN, Russia (AP) — Eight months ago, Benjamin Pavard was a young player with potential.
He’s now the first France defender to score a goal at the World Cup since Lilian Thuram did it against Croatia in the 1998 semifinals, a few days before the host country won the title.
On Saturday at the Kazan Arena, the 22-year-old Pavard made it 2-2 against Argentina with a much-needed strike. Kylian Mbappe soon finished off the 4-3 victory to send France to the quarterfinals.
Twenty years ago, Thuram inspired France to a hard-fought win over Croatia with a pair of goals, his only two with the national team in 142 appearances.
“The coach told me, there is another right back who scored the same goal, Lilian Thuram,” Pavard said after netting his first international goal. “Hopefully there are more goals to come.”
Pavard’s effort in the 57th minute was perfectly executed. From the edge of the area, he transferred his body weight to his left leg and sliced a volley from a bouncing ball with the outside of his foot into the far corner. The goal spurred a strong reaction from France, which was unstoppable after Pavard’s equalizer, overwhelming Argentina with relentless attacks despite the best efforts of Lionel Messi.
“To score a goal like that at the World Cup is something huge. I will remember it for the rest of my life,” Pavard said. “It’s pure joy for me and the whole team. We saw tonight we are a great team.”
Pavard, who calls Mats Hummels and Sergio Ramos role models, was chosen by France coach Didier Deschamps for the first time last November for friendlies against Wales in Germany.
After being forced out of Lille in 2016 because he was not part of the coach’s plans, Pavard imposed himself in the Bundesliga with Stuttgart. The German side had just been relegated to the second division when he arrived and Pavard was given a regular role in Stuttgart’s defense. He played 21 league games as his new team immediately returned to the top division.
This season, Pavard’s influence has not been much debated, starting week in-week out with his club. In Russia, he was among the best French players in the group stage, when Les Bleus struggled with their attacking play and had to rely on solid defending.
“Scoring like this, at such a young age in his first World Cup, is something fantastic,” France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said. “It’s probably the most beautiful goal since the start of the competition, and he scored it at an important moment. It highlights his great match today.”
Pavard was at fault on Argentina’s second goal when he conceded the free kick that led to Gabriel Mercado’s strike in the 48th minute. But that mistake aside, his defensive display was excellent and he often ran down the right flank to good effect.
“He is a good soldier,” Lloris said. “Defensively he always works hard and he has good skills with the ball to his feet. He proved it tonight, not only with his goal but also his offensive input.”
Praised for his good passing technique with both feet, Pavard was not expected to be a starter for France in Russia but he has made the most of Djibril Sidibe’s knee problems. He is also making a great partnership with Lucas Hernandez, who played in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy at left back.
“I’m not capable of scoring goals like that,” said Hernandez, who plays for Atletico and set up Pavard with a cross from the left. “I want to congratulate him. He did a big match and his goal helped us level the scoring. After that, we were more relaxed and we grabbed the win.”
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