FIFA – Kounde: I want to be in France’s starting line-up

Is Jules Kounde in line to benefit from the possible absence of Raphael Varane and become a star at his first ever FIFA World Cup™?

Things seem to be falling into place for the versatile former Bordeaux defender, who now plies his trade with Barcelona. There is little doubt that he will be part of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Qatar 2022™, which will be officially announced on 9 November, shortly before his 24th birthday.

Kounde’s move to Barca after three successful years with Sevilla appears to have taken his game to new heights. Since the start of the 2022/23 season, he has made seven La Liga appearances and, other than a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid, he has been one of the stand-out players in central defence for the Blaugrana.

Indeed, excluding that Clasico loss, Barca have won all six matches in which Kounde has played, keeping a clean sheet every time.

“He’s strong in the one-on-ones, directs his team-mates very well and is very quick in what is a high defensive line,” said Xavi – his coach and perhaps his biggest fan – in a recent interview. “You can tell that he’s always focused and very aggressive. For his age, he’s an incredible defender – he’s got maturity and leadership qualities. He’s already playing at a very high level and gives the team a great feeling of security.”

If asked, Deschamps would no doubt be equally effusive in his praise. The French coach is similarly appreciative of Kounde’s play and had no hesitation in throwing him in at the deep end in June 2021 for what was only his second cap. The crucial third group game at EURO 2020 against Ronaldo’s Portugal ended in a 2-2 draw.

Prior to that match, he had only played 45 minutes in a French shirt: a 3-0 friendly win over Wales. Since summer 2021, however, Kounde has established himself in the first XI, starting 10 of a possible 13 matches, often as a right back, and has picked up plenty of experience at the highest level in the UEFA Nations League and in World Cup qualifiers.

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Born in Paris but with dual citizenship from his Benin roots, Kounde is now committed to Les Bleus, regardless of which position he is asked to play. “I’m more used to operating as a central defender as that’s where I’ve been used most of my career, but I’ll play wherever the coach wants,” he told FIFA. “The only thing that matters is what’s best for France. I want to be a starter, and if the coach thinks that the team is better off with Jules Kounde at right back, I’m happy to accept that – it’s not a problem.”

Regardless of whether Deschamps opts for three across the back with two attacking wingbacks or a more classic four-man defensive line, Kounde can expect to have a role to play at Qatar 2022.

In the first of those two scenarios, he could be on the right side of the three or even a right-sided wingback. In the latter case, he would simply step in for 87-time international Varane, most likely alongside the left-footed Presnel Kimpembe, with Benjamin Pavard on the right and Lucas Hernandez on the left.

William Saliba, the former Marseille player who has caught the eye this season with Arsenal, would appear to be Kounde’s main competition in Qatar in the event that Varane fails to prove his fitness. The Gunner has minimal experience on the international stage however, with just four caps to date, while Kounde is already a far more established figure in the squad.

FIFA – Kounde

“I got the call up a little over a year ago now, so I’ve settled in,” Kounde said. “I’ve been able to adapt and take on the team’s style of play. I feel really comfortable in the group and hope to be part of it for a number of years to come. It’s a very prestigious national team, and representing your country is a big thing.”

Particularly when that team are the reigning world champions…

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