France are counting on Rabiot to play a leading role at the World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — France are counting on midfielder Adrien Rabiot to continue giving their best to the defending World Cup champions in Saturday’s match against Denmark.

Rabiot scored from a header and assisted on a second goal in France’s 4-1 win over Australia. It was a remarkable turnaround for a player previously exiled for more than two years by the national team.

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

Lloris is qualified to judge talent: the goalkeeper is in his fourth World Cup and will set a national record with 143 caps if France reach the knockout stages.

France stars N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are both out with injuries, giving Rabiot the opportunity to take on a leadership role for the squad.

“People have been talking 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 careers when they have the maturity and experience to play a leading role. Aurelien has this profile.”

Even before his performance against Australia, the 27-year-old Rabiot was on the rise at Juventus.

When the Italian powerhouse were struggling this season, he became very influential and won over fans who considered him too inconsistent since moving from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019. He has scored five goals in 16 games this season, compared to five goals in 92 games in the previous two years.

“People have always talked about his abilities and you can see how he played for Juve,” Lloris said. “He’s talented but he also works incredibly hard, he covers a lot of ground.”

With 30 international caps, Rabiot is the most experienced of France’s young midfielders and lives up to his responsibilities.

“I don’t feel pressured by being the more experienced player (in midfield), because someone expects more from him,” he said.

Opinion about Rabiot is now mostly positive, which was not before.

Rabiot asked to be dropped from the reserve list for the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and France manager Didier Deschamps dropped him from the roster.

“He made a huge mistake. I hope it will help him grow and think,” Deschamps said at the time. “When you play at the top level, you can’t let your emotions get the better of you.”

Born in the Val-de-Marne region of Paris, he was touted as a future star when he joined PSG’s academy aged 15. Despite his slim build, he had a silky touch and excellent passing reach.

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

Everything was going so well. And then came her troubles.

Rabiot was late to a meeting before the French Cup final in 2015 and the team coach left without him. He reportedly once insulted Swedish player Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a preseason match and rejected PSG’s contract offers with his tough-negotiating mother Veronique as his agent.

There is no doubt that Rabiot has always had a strong character, but now he is 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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