Theo Hernandez steps up for France at World Cup in brother’s absence

Al Khor (Qatar) (AFP) – Theo Hernandez’s goal against Morocco on Wednesday set France on their way to a second successive World Cup final. But it could have been very different if his brother had not been injured minutes into the tournament.

Lucas Hernandez tore an anterior cruciate ligament in France’s opening 4-1 victory over Australia, ruling the Bayern Munich defender out for several months.

The injury blow came days after Les Bleus lost Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema to a thigh problem, with France coach Didier Deschamps already deprived of first-choice midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.

But it could have been a blessing in disguise of sorts for Deschamps, who ditched his experiment with a three-man defence and reverted to a 4-3-3 formation just before the World Cup in Qatar.

While Lucas Hernandez started every game in France’s 2018 World Cup-winning campaign, Theo is a more natural fit at left-back than his brother, who is a left-sided central defender by trade.

Voted as part of the Serie A team of the season three times in a row, Theo Hernandez helped AC Milan end an 11-year wait for the Serie A title last season.

Playing behind Kylian Mbappe down France’s left, he gives the team added potency in attack — contributing two assists in the group stage, but has at times also been exposed defensively.

Theo, 25, who once considered playing for Spain, did not make his international debut until September 2021 but he scored the winning goal in just his second match.

He dropped in and out of the team before earning a run in the side in Qatar because of his brother’s misfortune.

Let off the hook after Harry Kane blazed over a penalty he needlessly conceded in the previous round against England, Hernandez scored in just the fifth minute on Wednesday.

Quick reactions

Quickest to react to a looping deflection from Mbappe’s shot, he expertly finished past Yassine Bounou to put France ahead and silence the pro-Morocco crowd.

“I was all alone. I saw Kylian wanted to shoot, there was a rebound and I pounced on it to score,” said Hernandez.

Substitute Randal Kolo Muani doubled France’s lead in the 79th minute, giving them a welcome cushion.

Deschamps’ team now have the chance to become the first side in 60 years to successfully defend their World Cup title.

“I’m proud to have won the game and it’s a very proud moment to have scored the goal,” said Hernandez. “It’s amazing to play two World Cup finals in a row, we’ve done a great job.”

But his task is only going to get harder, with Lionel Messi and Argentina lying in wait on Sunday.

“It’s a huge match. We’re going to work hard to win the final,” said Hernandez, who revealed his brother, watching from Munich, had called to congratulate him after the game.

“The most important thing now is to recover well in the next four days and be ready for the final. Argentina are not just Messi, they have loads of players, they’re a great team.”

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