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How Griezmann became 'a mix of Zidane and Platini' with a bit of Kante thrown in for France at the World Cup

11:00 GMT+3 18/12/2022
Antoine Griezmann France 2022 World Cup HIC 16:9
The Frenchman has been a revelation in his new hybrid role, creating more chances than anyone else while also working tirelessly for his team.

After France reached the 2018 World Cup final by beating Belgium, an overwhelmed Antoine Griezmann broke down in tears.

Conversely, when Les Bleus repeated the feat in Qatar on Wednesday night by withstanding a Moroccan onslaught, he was calm and composed as he collected his man of the match award.

Just as he had been throughout the preceding 90 minutes.

France effectively entered enemy territory at the Al Bayt Stadium. In theory, it was a neutral venue; in reality, though, it was a home game for Morocco.

The African nation's fans packed the stands, outnumbering their French counterparts by a ratio of roughly seven to one.

When La Marseillaise began before kick-off, it was greeted by a cacophony of whistles, just like every French touch once the game got under way.

The stadium fell momentarily silent just five minutes in, though, when France took the lead.

Theo Hernandez had provided the acrobatic finish, Kylian Mbappe had taken the shot that deflected into his left-back's path, but Griezmann had been the creator.

Unsurprisingly.

Sunday's final between France and Argentina is understandably being billed as Kylian Mbappe vs Lionel Messi.

If one of them scores a crucial goal or provides a killer assist, they will most likely be awarded the Golden Ball.

However, don't rule Griezmann out of the running. If he's not been the player of the tournament, he's certainly been its revelation.

That may seem strange to say for a player who scored four goals and created two others during France's triumph in Russia, but Griezmann's reputation has taken such a battering in the intervening four years that this revival has come as a most welcome surprise.

Particularly as he's now flourishing in a very different role in Qatar.

Indeed, what was obvious from the moment France kicked off their campaign is that Griezmann is the most important player in Didier Deschamps' line-up, the ultimate link-man, the hybrid hero who holds the whole team together.

France have only lost one game thus far, against Tunisia, and Griezmann started that on the bench alongside Mbappe.

Both were introduced in the second half but it was Griezmann who so nearly levelled the game with a goal that was controversially ruled out for offside.

He's still not scored, of course, but that's not what's being asked of him in Qatar. His job now is to both create and destroy in an auxiliary midfield role, and he's loving his work.

"I’m pretty free in how I link up with defence and attack,” he told reporters. "When we’re defending, I have to help out my team-mates. And when we have the ball, I have to try to play it as well as I can.

"It gives me more choice. Physically, I feel great, and when I’m feeling good, my head’s a lot better too and it’s easier to keep doing it over and over again."

As he alluded to, Griezmann wasn't exactly in a great place mentally or physically just a few months ago.

After flopping at Barcelona, he initially struggled after returning to Atletico Madrid.

The farcical situation he found himself in because of an appearance-related clause in his contract hardly helped matters.

The net result was he was no longer scoring, or enjoying his football.

France fans even began to boo him and many were against his inclusion in the squad for Qatar 2022.

Now, though, Griezmann is being rightly lauded for his role in Les Bleus reaching a second consecutive World Cup final, with no player in Qatar having racked up more assists (three) or created more chances (21).

"I've found him simply exceptional since the start of the competition," former France international Christophe Dugarry told RMC Sport.

"I even find him, at times, 'Zidane-esque'. He always has the right tone, the right pass.

"I sincerely think that the France team would not be the same without him. We often lack rhythm in our game; there's not a lot of intensity.

"But, as soon as Antoine touches the ball, he puts rhythm on a pass, on a vision. He has a mix of Zizou and Platini.

"In addition, he runs, he gallops, he fills the gaps, he reads the opponents' play."

Indeed, what's arguably been even more impressive about Griezmann's game is the way in which it's evolved from a defensive perspective.

France lost N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba to injury before the tournament began yet they've barely been missed.

Now, the work of Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot has been key in that regard but Griezmann's contribution cannot be overstated.

Pogba even compared Griezmann's incredible coverage to that of Kante after the win over Morocco.

Griezmann's willingness to perform such a selfless role speaks volumes of both his quality and his character.

However, it's also testament to his bond with Deschamps, who never had any doubt that the 31-year-old had the requisite "work-rate, energy and intelligence" to deliver in a deeper role.

“I owe him a lot," Griezmann told reporters last week. "He called me up for the first time and we’ve never been apart since, so it’s a great relationship.

"I give everything for the jersey and for France, but also for him. I try to do everything he asks of me so that he continues to trust me.

"Every match, every action, it’s like a thank you that I send him. I want to try to do everything to make him proud of his No.7."

He's already achieved that particular goal in Qatar.

But don't be surprised if he rewards Deschamps with one more man of the match-winning performance in Sunday's final before a pro-Argentina crowd in Lusail.

In what promises to be another hostile atmosphere for France, Antoine Griezmann will likely be the coolest player on the pitch.