Grizou! France’s new attacking playmaker can be the Zidane of Euro 2016

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Les Bleus' hopes are pinned on the Atletico Madrid attacker, who has already proven himself to be the player for the big moment during the competition


GOAL COMMENT

In 1984 it was Michel Platini, in 1998 it was Zinedine Zidane – now Antoine Griezmann is set to be France’s hero in 2016 as they chase a hat-trick of major crowns claimed on home soil.

Didier Deschamps’ men stand just 90 minutes away from the European Championship final, having seemingly found their form to defeat the Republic of Ireland and Iceland in the knockout stages of the tournament. The coach has urged them to “create their own history”, and they will attempt to do so at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, where they host Germany.

The world champions are expected to pose a far sterner for Les Bleus than any of their previous opponents this summer, not least because they knocked France out of Brazil 2014 courtesy of a 1-0 quarter-final victory. 

Deschamps’ team may not exactly have had an overhaul since that day, yet in Griezmann they boast a player quickly rising to become one of the most talented on the planet, even if his profile continues to be shaded by the team-mate Paul Pogba.

“At the 2014 World Cup, he already showed the extent of his talent,” Philipp Lahm, the retired Germany captain, told L’Equipe. “Since then he's accumulated experience to become a confirmed player. His progress is consistent and today he's one of the best European forwards.”

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone, meanwhile, boasted before the Champions League final: “Now he is among the three best players in the world.”

The 25-year-old moved to the Spanish capital from Real Sociedad two years ago and has flourished under the guidance of the Argentine, scoring 57 goals at a rate of over one every two matches. Having had a slow start to his international career, his record in this domain is improving, and he went into the semi-final stage in pole position for the Golden Boot, with four goals to his name.

Crucially, though, he has become something of a talisman for his country. If nerves seemed to get the better of him on the opening night of the tournament when France struggled past Romania, he was quick to learn his lesson. Deschamps exiled him to the bench from the outset of the following match against Albania, but with Les Bleus again toiling, it was his last-minute header that set them up for a 2-0 victory.

His international career really lifted off in last 16, though. Trailing 1-0 to Ireland and seemingly running out of ideas, Griezmann headed his side level shortly before the hour mark then finished brilliantly to push them into the ascendancy a couple of minutes later. A first international hat-trick might have followed had he not been fouled when clear on goal, though his contribution nevertheless proved match winning.

Although his strike in the following round against Iceland carried less weight - it merely put his side 4-0 up - the manner in which the forward clipped the ball past Hannes Halldorsson suggested that he is a player feeling at the very top of his game.

It is a remarkable renaissance given that barely six weeks ago he was left to lament a penalty miss that proved costly to Atleti in the Champions League final, which they lost to Real Madrid. 

“Antoine had a tricky start to the tournament. He was a little bit fatigued so I wanted to manage him during the first nine days of the tournament,” Deschamps said after the 5-2 victory over Iceland on Sunday.

“He is fit now and did not have any fatigue tonight or during the previous match.”

“He is a clinical finisher, he is excellent technically and we hope he continues like this.”

Little wonder Griezmann was tired – he ran 142 kilometres in Champions League football alone during 2015-16, the second highest in the competition.

It is a work ethic that is reminiscent of a Paris Saint-Germain forward linked with Atletico Madrid that he draws inspiration from.

“Edinson Cavani inspires me,” the attacker, who wears long sleeves out of his appreciation of David Beckham, told L’Equipe. “I love his desire to close everything down and the hard defensive running he does. I know he’s doubted in France, but he’s a killer in front of goal.”

This industry that is instilled by Simeone is something that still needs refined in his game, according to the Argentine coach.

“Defensively I’ve still got things to learn,” Griezmann admitted. “Offensively, I could dribble better in one-against-one situations. Set-pieces, I can be more effective and must try to do as Dimitri Payet and score six or seven goals.”

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This is, however, where the Macon-born player, differs from Zidane and Platini, who are players defined by their outstanding individual contributions. ‘Zizou’, of course, rose to cult status in his home country when he scored twice in the World Cup final of 1998 to help see off Brazil 3-1, while ‘Platoche’ scored an incredible nine times as Les Bleus claimed Euro 84. 

Griezmann does not boast the artistic grace of his processors, yet he showed against Ireland he is France’s matchwinner. He is not yet as revered as either of the great No.10s who have gone before him, but by Sunday he may be spoken of in the same breath.

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