Antoine Griezmann worth his weight in gold for France and Deschamps
It was a bold claim by Didier Deschamps although, as overlord of the world champions, one he was amply qualified to make. “He’s one of the greatest players of all-time both in Europe and worldwide,” Deschamps said of a vital component in the France team favoured to take the European Championship too.
Kylian Mbappé? N’Golo Kanté? The international version of Paul Pogba? Wrong. He was talking of Antoine Griezmann.
Deschamps’ declaration might be dismissed in Barcelona where the £120m forward has been maligned as another symbol of their costly decline. In France, by contrast, there is recognition of the 30-year-old’s selfless contribution to their triumphant rise. Griezmann’s manager is chief among the admirers.
Against Hungary on Saturday, when victory would secure France’s place in the last 16 with a group game to spare, Griezmann will extend a record run of appearances for his country to 50 consecutive matches. He has started all 35 competitive fixtures in that sequence, which commenced in August 2017, and has not missed a single competitive international under Deschamps since making his debut seven years ago. France have been repaid with 37 goals from his 92 outings.
“Above and beyond the fact that he is playing in consecutive games, and wonderfully so, all of his activity and his game volume shows that he may not be 20 years old any more but he takes very good care of himself,” explained Deschamps. “He’s a professional and he’s managed to avoid the different injuries that he could have had. The statistics speak for themselves. You can see the influence he has for the French national team through the goals that he scores and his assists.
“If we then add to that the capacity he has to change the game, to get stuck in when we need to defend and we don’t have the ball, he’s one of the greatest players of all-time both in Europe and worldwide.”
Griezmann embodied the characteristics that Hugo Lloris described as France’s greatest strength in the opening, hard-fought victory over Germany. “The will-to-win is the real strength of our team,” the France and Tottenham goalkeeper insisted. “This team spirit and competitive edge that we have, regardless of who the opponent is, means we want to win and we want to win together.”
The forward led France’s resistance against late pressure from Germany on Tuesday, tracking back tirelessly and throwing himself into tackles yet not at the expense of his assistance to Mbappé and Karim Benzema at the opposite end of the pitch.
Deschamps added: “He’s one of the leaders, the technical leaders of the team. He’s one of those players who is a game changer with the way he moves, the control that he has with the ball and the goals that he’s capable of scoring. His assists. He’s an offensive player, a very creative player and he has this ability to think outside the box. That’s something he has proven to us time and time again, it’s remarkable to watch, even though he’s happy to get back and defend. Maybe he does that a little bit too much.
“I think Barcelona and Atlético have also been able to make the most of this. I’m not going to take this away from him. It is completely natural for him to get back and defend when he has to and it is important for our balance. This doesn’t prevent him from being a huge player and from having a huge presence on the pitch with regards to his efficiency up front.”
France switched their training times to 3pm after the Germany win to prepare for Saturday’s afternoon kick off. They have also had to take Budapest’s soaring temperatures into consideration, with the game forecast to be played in 32C (90F) heat. “To start with we are delighted to be playing against Hungary in a full stadium with a great atmosphere and lots of colour,” said Lloris. “Hungary will have their 12th man behind them. The heat will be an important factor too.
“It is something we have been taking into consideration with our preparations, with our sleep, hydration and what we’re eating. We really hope there will be a water break during the game for both teams.”
Lloris and Deschamps both cited the importance of handling Hungary’s threat from set-pieces. France have not conceded a set-piece goal in their last 13 internationals, so should be well primed. Another issue to contend with, or readjustment to make, is communicating with each other when surrounded by a full capacity crowd of over 60,000 supporters for the first time since the pandemic struck.
“It is going to be a bit more complicated to hear each other,” France’s goalkeeper admitted. “I imagine that we will be able to do it between two lines, so me and the back line, and the midfielders and the front line, but we won’t be able to jump lines as we have been doing. I won’t be able to scream down the front to the forwards or even to the offensive midfielders, but these are things that you just have to deal with.
“We are just delighted to be able to play in front of a full stadium again. Sharing these emotions – not only between us but with the fans in the stadium as well – really is the heart of football.”