Home Fifa News World Cup 2022: Antoine Griezmann 2.0 keeps France on track

World Cup 2022: Antoine Griezmann 2.0 keeps France on track


It is an occupational hazard for a player and playmaker of Christian Eriksen’s quality. He tends to attract man-markers. Just not normally those of quite of the calibre of the top scorer in a European Championships and the second highest in a World Cup 2022. A forward who cost £107million and scored in a World Cup final was reinvented as Eriksen’s dedicated sentry. “Antoine Griezmann was following him,” the Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand lamented after his side’s 2-1 defeat to France.

If that offers an echo of Bobby Charlton marking Franz Beckenbauer, and vice versa, in both 1966 and 1970, it was not all Griezmann was doing. He was assisting, for starters: France’s winner came from a lovely waft of his left foot, curling a cross that Kylian Mbappe forced over the line. There might have been an equally elegant assist earlier, Griezmann supplying the defence-splitting pass from his own half, Mbappe reaching top gear before he was unceremoniously upended by Andreas Christensen.

Griezmann is more accustomed to getting on the end of such balls, albeit not quite at the same pace as Mbappe. But this is a different Griezmann; Griezmann 2.0; Griezmann the midfielder. He has long been comfortable in the No 10 role but now he is playing as a No 8. Didier Deschamps is sometimes damned with faint praise, a World Cup-winning manager deemed overly cautious and largely unoriginal. But whereas Deschamps’ century of French caps brought a mere four goals, Griezmann has more than 10 times as many. Yet, temporarily anyway, he has been shifted into the department his manager used to occupy.

He became a one-man solution to two problems, helping compensate for the absence of the injured Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, which left France lacking a midfield, and enabling Deschamps to cram in a quartet of attackers, with Mbappe joined by Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele. Deschamps noted that Brazil had played with four forwards; if France did likewise, it was when their formation was nevertheless often 4-3-3, with an extra man behind the ball. Dembele helped Griezmann out, sometimes dropping deeper to assume more defensive duties, but essentially Deschamps was trusting in his talisman to show positional discipline. Griezmann has played in France’s last 69 internationals, a run going back five-and-a-half years, but rarely like this.

“I am asking him for something different from him from club level,” Deschamps said. He had consulted Griezmann before, discussing it with his players, denying it was a knee-jerk decision. But he had to ask a man with 276 career goals to compromise his game. “But the sacrifice is for one reason: he is so generous,” Deschamps added. “He is an intelligent player, he is able to make those sacrifices and he brings balance to the team. We have a lot attacking players but we need to bring balance. I could have put him up front on the right instead of Ousmane Dembele but thanks to his imagination and his creativity he is able to play for the others.”

If some strikers do move back in the team as they get older, sometimes because of a loss of pace, it is a measure that can backfire: England scarcely prospered with Wayne Rooney in midfield in Euro 2016, for instance. If playing for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid furnishes Griezmann with a work ethic, Deschamps suggested he is savouring some of his new responsibilities out of possession. “He loves winning those balls back,” the France manager said. “And he is able to work wonders with his left foot and he is great on set pieces as well if we need him.”

That footballing intelligence was apparent when Griezmann assumed one familiar position, as the furthest man forward, and could have taken another, on the scoresheet: a perfectly timed run from deep allowed him to emerge unchecked to meet Aurelien Tchouameni’s ball from the centre circle. The subsequent finish was wayward, though that was not why Deschamps concluded Griezmann won’t be a Golden Boot challenger this time. “I imagine in his new role he won’t score as many goals as he is used to,” he said.

Mbappe may compensate by getting more. In a tale of two scorers from the 2018 final, the younger man produced the most eye-catching performance. “He is an exceptional player,” said Deschamps, after Mbappe drove France into the last 16. “He is a leader. Kylian is not very talkative but he is like a steam train on the pitch.”

Mbappe is France’s Train a Grand Vitesse, powered by steam in one respect, by Griezmann the new-look midfielder in another. And so far, Deschamps’ surprise change of direction has kept France on track for glory again.

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