France striker Olivier Giroud has apologised to Chelsea team-mate Thibault Courtois for choosing fellow countryman Hugo Lloris as the best goalkeeper at Russia 2018.
Chelsea forward Giroud and Belgium goalkeeper Courtois go head-to-head in the World Cup’s first semi-final in St Petersburg on Tuesday night.
It is an eagerly-awaited showdown between two neighbouring countries, who have both shown glimpses of why they arrived in Russia as genuine heavyweights.
Giroud did his best not to stoke the flames, but said he thought Tottenham’s Lloris was the better goalkeeper.
“Thibaut has an impressive wingspan. It’s hard to beat him on the sides. He can stop balls in any area,” Giroud told a press conference.
“I have scored a few goals against him in training with Chelsea and I hope I can do it on Tuesday. They’re both great keepers.
“And they both deserve to be elected as best keeper of the tournament, even if I have a preference for Hugo. The best is Hugo. Sorry Thibaut.”
Courtois has kept two clean sheets in five matches in Russia, while Lloris has two in four.
Giroud, who scored five goals in 18 appearances for Chelsea following his £18million move from London rivals Arsenal in January, but has yet to hit the target in this tournament.
“We’re expecting a different game against Belgium, they play beautiful football,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be an open game, they’re not going to just defend, obviously.
“It’s going to be a good game to watch, I think, and enjoyable to play on the pitch.
“Both teams play good football and move forward, so it will also be a tactical battle at some point.”
France and Belgium’s squads both have plenty of players who ply their trade in the Premier League and Giroud believes this adds to the intrigue ahead of their clash at the Krestovsky Stadium.
“This is a special game for us,” he added. “There are Belgians who have evolved with us at club level.
“There’s a big rivalry between France and Belgium, it’s a derby. They have nine players who play in the Premier League, so this game with have a little English accent.
“We know their qualities. For Hugo (Lloris), me, N’Golo (Kante), Paul (Pogba), it’s a special game.
“We don’t want to endure jeering during the pre-season at Chelsea. It will be difficult, but we will qualify. We have to qualify.”