DOHA: Defender Jules Kounde has taken on an unlikely role in the French team at the World Cup in Qatar: replacing a veteran right back benched for his poor play.
Kounde, who turned 24 this month, has stepped in for the previously well-established Benjamin Pavard in the starting line-up, after a Pavard blunder against Australia cost the defending World Cup champions a goal.
The Bayern Munich right back, a starter on the 2018 World Cup team, was subbed out by manager Didier Deschamps in the 89th minute of their 4-1 win over Australia and did not play in France's 2-1 victory against Denmark.
Pavard was at fault for squandering France's clean sheet, failing to mark Australia's Craig Goodwin at the far post and thereby allowing the Socceroos to open the scoring in the ninth minute.
"It's an absolutely healthy competition," Kounde said on Monday of his relationship with Pavard. "We of course to talk sometimes. We are each trying to bring our best for the team when we play and then it's the coach who makes the decisions."
Kounde, who plays as a centre back at FC Barcelona, is not a natural right back but has thankfully found an ally in his club team mate Ousmane Dembele on the wing.
"Playing with Ousmane helps me," Kounde said. "We played a few matches together on the right flank. Defensively he was very impressive during the last match. I'm very happy to have his defensive support."
Beating Denmark 2-1 made France the first team in the 32-nation tournament to reach the round of 16.
France, the first defending champions to reach the round of 16 since Brazil in 2006, play Tunisia in their last Group D match on Wednesday and could use their substitutes to rest their star players ahead of the next stage.