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France counts on Rabiot as the main player in the World Cup

France's Adrien Rabiot celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the World Cup group D soccer match between France and Australia on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 at Al-Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar.  (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

France’s Adrien Rabiot celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the World Cup group D soccer match between France and Australia on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 at Al-Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

AP

France are counting on midfielder Adrien Rabiot, who will continue to perform well in the holders’ game against Denmark on Saturday.

Rabiot headed in and set up a second goal in France’s 4-1 win over Australia in their opener. It was a remarkable turnaround for a player previously banned from the national team for more than two years.

“There is a chance for him at this World Cup. It has arrived at the right time and he is ready,” France captain Hugo Lloris said on Friday. “Technically, he’s a very elegant player and he can really help us go far.”

Lloris is qualified to judge talent: the keeper is playing in his fourth World Cup and will set a national record with 143 appearances if France reach the knockout rounds.

France stars N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are both injured, giving Rabiot an opportunity to take a leadership role for the team.

“People have spoken a lot about the absence of Pogba and Kante, who have been a driving force in the team for years,” said Lloris. “People forget that there are other players who can take on more responsibility, who reach a certain point in their career where they have the maturity and experience to play a leading role. Aurelien has this profile.”

Even before his appearance against Australia, the 27-year-old Rabiot was on a strong upward curve at Juventus.

As the Italian powerhouse struggled this season, he became hugely influential, winning over fans who saw him as far too fickle since joining from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019. This compares to five goals in 16 games this season and five goals in 92 games over the past two years.

“People have always talked about his skills and you can see how he plays for Juve,” said Lloris. “He has the talent but also works incredibly hard, he covers a lot.”

With 30 caps, Rabiot is the most experienced player among young French midfielders and lives by his responsibilities.

“I don’t feel pressured to be the most experienced player (in midfield) that people expect more from,” he said.

The opinion about Rabiot is now mostly positive, which was not the case before.

Rabiot asked to be removed from the list of reserve players for the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and France coach Didier Deschamps actually left him out of the squad.

“He made a big mistake. Hopefully it will help him grow up and think,” Deschamps said at the time. “When you’re playing at the highest level, you can’t let your emotions take over.”

Born in the Val-de-Marne region of Paris, he was heralded as a star-to-be when he joined PSG’s academy at 15. Despite his lanky build, he had a silky touch and excellent passing range.

Now in Qatar and back with the national team, Rabiot has come full circle: he earned $1,000 in 2012 when he was named the best player in a youth tournament played in Qatar and won by PSG. Later that same year, at the age of 17, Rabiot became PSG’s youngest goalscorer in a Champions League game.

Everything went so well. And then came his problems.

Rabiot was late for a meeting ahead of the 2015 French Cup final and the team bus left without him. He reportedly once insulted Swedish player Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a pre-season game and turned down PSG contract offers with his hard-bargaining mother Veronique as his agent.

There’s no doubt Rabiot has always had a strong character but now he’s channeling it for the good of the national team.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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