- Hernandez and Pavard are Les Bleus’ breakout stars
- Similar players with lots of potential
- Both have close relationships with Didier Deschamps
By Adrien Gingold with France
Surprise inclusions in Didier Deschamps’s first-choice XI at the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia?, 22-year-old defenders?Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez wasted little time in establishing themselves as key players in the France team.
Coming into the side in place of Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy, Pavard and Hernandez were virtually unknown to France fans seven months ago. Yet in just a handful of matches, these two tireless workers have imposed themselves on the French flanks and lived up to the expectations placed on them.
As well as being the same age, the defensive duo have similar builds, share an appetite for hard work, and like to get forward. They have also come to prominence in leagues outside France: the Bundesliga in Pavard’s case and La Liga in Hernandez’s.
Pavard, who runs out for Stuttgart, and Hernandez, who earned his place in the Atletico Madrid line-up after Filipe Luis picked up an injury, each began their Russian adventure with only five caps to their name. “To begin with I thought I’d be on the bench,” Hernandez told us. “In the end, I’ve been lucky enough to play, and I still can’t get over it. The hard work is paying off. I’m not someone who talks a lot, but I do work my socks off.”
Voicing similar sentiments, Pavard said: “Six months ago I couldn’t even have imagined getting a call-up to the national team, and yet here I am, on the brink of playing in a World Cup Final. I’m going to make the most of it because I don’t think I’ll have the chance to experience this again.”
Despite what they say, their international careers could go on much longer than they think, such has been the quality of their performances and so consistent have they been. Their sudden breakthrough seems to have ended France’s long search for reliable performers down both flanks. As they showed in teaming up for a spectacular goal in the Round of 16 against Argentina – which saw Pavard score with a sublime drive from a Hernandez cross – these are two players who are very much on the up.
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France’s full-back “twins” have something else in common: their respect for, bond with, and gratitude to Didier Deschamps. The France coach has been bold and brave in pinning his hopes on the two young players. “Didier was a player himself and he understands us. He knows how this works,” said Hernandez.?“He’s a fantastic coach and I’ve learned so much from him.”?
Pavard echoed those words: “It’s amazing to play for him. He gives a lot of advice and we’re lucky to have him. And then there’s the fact that he captained the side that won the World Cup.”
Both are now beginning to believe that France’s dream might just come true. They are, after all, only 90 minutes away from seeing it fulfilled. For the scorer of one of the goals of the tournament, it is all a little too much to comprehend: “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, to be honest. I don’t think I’ll actually realise that I’ve been playing in the World Cup until it’s all over.”