Flu ravaged France battle to stop spread of virus on eve of World Cup final



France’s national team at a training session at the Al Sadd SC training centre in Doha on Dec 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

France have not been overly troubled by the virus that has hit several players in the past few days, coach Didier Deschamps said, as the squad prepare to end their World Cup campaign on a high in Sunday’s final match against Argentina.

Central defensive pair Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate missed training on Friday due to illness, along with winger Kingsley Coman, while midfielder Adrien Rabiot and defender Dayot Upamecano did not play in Wednesday’s semi-final win over Morocco.

“We try to take the maximum precautions, to adapt and to deal with it, without going overboard. It is obviously a situation. If it wasn’t happening it would be better, but we manage as best we can with our medical staff,” Deschamps told a news conference on Saturday.

The coach and his captain Hugo Lloris both insisted they could not offer any further health updates as of Saturday morning.

“I am fine. As for the players, I left quite early this morning so they were all sleeping,” added Deschamps, who spoke at 11.30am local time.

“We are trying to handle the situation as well as possible and remain calm and focused. We’re looking forward to being ready for this important game.”

Later in the day, it was confirmed that Varane, Konate and Coman were present for training on Saturday. Rabiot and Upamecano had rejoined training on Friday.

Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and left-back Theo Hernandez, who also missed training on Friday because of knocks, were on the pitch.

Players, staff and other sources have spoken of a range of symptoms affecting the team in recent days, including fever, stomach pains and headaches. Reports have said it was partly because of the air-conditioning to keep players cool in the Qatar heat.

Measures have been taken at the team’s hotel, including isolating certain players, but Covid-19 testing is no longer imposed by world governing body Fifa.

On the pitch, France are aiming to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup.

The showdown at the Lusail Stadium will be Deschamps’ third World Cup final after he won it in 1998 as Les Bleus’ captain and then four years ago as their coach.

He oozed calm on Saturday despite the pressure of facing a team looking to give Lionel Messi his maiden title.

“I have no worries or stress. The important thing in preparing for a match like this is to remain calm,” said Deschamps.

Goalkeeper Lloris also said the game was bigger than just Messi.

“The event is too important to focus on one player. It’s a final between two great nations,” he said.

“When you face this kind of player (Messi), you have to pay attention to him, but this game is not just about him.”

France have shown they can adapt to any kind of team, which could be a big asset against Argentina, who have tested out several systems at these Finals.

“There will be a game plan to respect. We are still studying this team and preparing for this big game. There are always things we are not prepared for,” added Lloris.

“We need to be ready to go above and beyond. We know that we are capable of playing with possession and on the counter-attack. We have a lot of fast players. The strength of our team is that we can adapt.”

Win or lose against Argentina, France are going through a remarkable period of sustained success that began with their World Cup triumph in 1998 and continued with their Euro 2000 win.

Deschamps was not involved as Les Bleus reached the World Cup final again in 2006 and lost to Italy.

Now, as they look to make history in Doha, it is easy to forget France’s disastrous 2010 campaign and that they were not seen as contenders for major honours when Deschamps took over in 2012.

But he has now led them to three finals in four major tournaments, with Euro 2016 ending in an agonising extra-time loss to Portugal.

France also won the 2021 Nations League, and their last-16 exit at Euro 2020 looks like an anomaly.

Deschamps’ management has been key, even though he played down his personal role after the 2-0 semi-final win over Morocco.

“I’m not the most important,” he said. “It is about the French national team.”


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