Zinedine Zidane will forever be the hero of his hometown of Marseille, but for just one night the Real Madrid coach was upstaged by France's newest legend: Antoine Griezmann.
‘Zizou’ will not begrudge the attacker his place in the spotlight, despite the 25-year-old turning out for his side’s fierce city rivals, Atletico, for it was he who secured France’s place in the Euro 2016 final on Sunday thanks to a 2-0 win over Germany.
Les Bleus withstood virtually unrelenting pressure for their opponents after making a bright start to the game, yet on the rare occasions they were able to push forward, it was the contribution of the forward quickly becoming known as ‘Grizou’ that proved decisive once again.
Shortly before the interval, France secured a rare foothold in opposing territory thanks to a corner. From the delivery, Bastian Schweinsteiger was hopelessly caught out and handled the ball, presenting Griezmann with the opportunity to beat Manuel Neuer from 12 yards.
Having missed a vital kick for Atleti in their Champions League final defeat to Real, it would have been easy for the forward to shun such a high-pressure situation. But France’s leader took responsibility and fired the ball into the top corner of the net.
Midway through the second period, he was on the mark again. Germany were unusually sloppy in their own box, with Paul Pogba stealing possession. Neuer failed to adequately cope with the cross, and Griezmann was on hand to poke that ball through the goalkeeper’s legs and into the goal.
It was his fifth goal of Euro 2016 – a tally in an individual European Championship bettered only by Michel Platini’s nine goals in 1984. The Juventus star scored twice in a classic 3-2 semi-final victory at the Velodrome over Portugal, yet prior to this encounter Didier Deschamps urged his side to write their own history, and it was Griezmann who was the author.
While there were other key performers in the hosts’ team, notably from captain Hugo Lloris, central defensive rookie Samuel Umtiti and the industrious Moussa Sissoko, all of their best attacking moments were channelled through the sprightly Atleti star.
France spent much of the game pinned into the 30 yards closest to their goal by a Germany side that dominated possession and territory. Opportunities for relief were precious and often wasted, yet when the hosts’ defence was offered the chance for a moment of respite it was inevitably thanks to the player released by Lyon for being too small in his youth.
It is the story of Griezmann’s tournament to date. When France have needed him most, he has inevitably done so. He had headed a vital late goal in this stadium when his side were apparently failing against Albania and then in les Bleus ’ most dire moment of need, he scored twice to transform a 1-0 deficit against the Republic of Ireland into a 2-1 victory.
In November, Griezmann played France defeated Germany 2-0 at Stade de France in a match that will be forever associated with the terror attacks on Paris – with the player’s sister present but safe at the Bataclan Theatre, where 89 were killed.
The emotions in Marseille could not have been any different as France moved to within 90 minutes of a third major crown in succession on home soil – and it was Griezmann who was the hero. Another similarly decisive performance on Sunday and he will rightly be held in the same esteem as Zidane and Platini.