DOHA, Qatar -- On Wednesday, as he lines up for the anthem before the second semifinal against Morocco, Hugo Lloris will be looking for his wife and children in the stands as he always does. He will wave discreetly before refocusing on one of the most important games of his career.
At 35 years old -- he turns 36 a week after the final -- this is very likely the last World Cup for the veteran goalkeeper, though his journey will either stop on Wednesday or on Sunday, and with either heartbreak or triumph. But Qatar 2022 will remain forever his heart and in the history books. After all, it is in Doha, against England last weekend, that Lloris became the most capped player in France men's football history with 143 appearances, beating the record set by defender Lilian Thuram.
More than that, the win against England means that there will be a 144th one to follow, and that victory owes quite a lot to the France goalkeeper's performance.
Before the game, Lloris didn't like the heavy criticism from the English media, much of which suggested that he was his country's weakest link. "He was really touched by that. He has been playing in England for 10 years and he thought they knew what he was about," explains a source close to the France team. "So that gave him even more anger, desire and extra motivation to have a great game which he did. He wanted to prove them wrong, and he did."
To be fair, the entire French squad rallied behind their captain in the wake of defeating England; they also didn't appreciate that analysis and were confident Lloris would be irreproachable.
Beyond the gravity of a World Cup semifinal, earning 143 caps with the national team is an incredible achievement. Lloris made his debut in November 2008 under Raymond Domenech, then played for Laurent Blanc and finally Didier Deschamps. That might not seem like many managers, but all three presided over very different eras, from the messiest (Domenech, and the 2010 World Cup) to the big time successes (winning World Cup 2018, winning the UEFA Nations League in 2020-21) of the Deschamps era.
From his debut to his appearances record, the Tottenham No. 1 has grown and adapted through the ups and downs of the national team. He learned so much from both the failures and the triumphs of the past 14 years, but remained serene throughout. Serenity is his main quality and he will try to transmit it again to his squad on Wednesday.
"We have to keep the same serene approach. There is no secret: this is what we will bring. We are getting closer to something great. The more forward we go, the more focused I am and we are," Lloris explained Tuesday morning.
Watching the team prepare, Lloris seems even more serene than usual. He seems impenetrable at times, maybe because this is very likely his last World Cup; he won't let the pressure get to him. He is calm and composed at all times, radiating calm from between the posts, but he also knows when to talk sternly to his teammates. Before the crucial encounter with England, it was Lloris who spoke loudest in the dressing room, reminding everyone to take nothing for granted, stressing that this game would be won by the finest of details, and that his side should focus to ensure they take the one chance that came their way.
For the most part, Lloris doesn't speak much and never has, but being vocal before the quarterfinal shows he feels comfortable saying what he has to say when he feels the time is right. He never misses a trick. He is a master of emotional intelligence, which explains why he is such a respected captain for France and Tottenham.
That intuition has been an underrated element of France's progress at this World Cup. With all their injuries before and during the early stages of the tournament -- Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku, Lucas Hernandez and Karim Benzema -- as well as all the question marks over this team's best XI and the skepticism over whether France could be the first team to defend the World Cup title since Brazil in 1962, Lloris never doubted. More than that, he united this group. He tends to sit next to Raphael Varane at the dinner table, near the end, and from there he can see and hear everything. Even if he's a very good poker player when taking on the likes of Varane and Antoine Griezmann, you'll never hear him brag or trash-talk about winning a hand.
Perhaps the most refreshing for Lloris at this World Cup has been the fact that he knows his France career is nearing the end, which has perhaps helped him enjoy it even more. Every moment spent with the squad, every win, every save, every news conference, every minute spent with a relative or a friend, all the smiles, the hugs and the dreams have helped keep the mood light. Meanwhile, Lloris is two games away from an incredible World Cup double which no captain has ever done (Italy had a different captain in 1934 and 1938 and same for Brazil in 1958 and 1962).
Again on Wednesday, his family will be there to watch him. Unfortunately not his mother, who passed away from breast cancer when Hugo was only 21 years, in April 2008, just a few months before he made his France debut. From above, she has guided him through all his adult life and she will be watching over him once again.