Antoine Griezmann is prepared for the “totally different proposition” Lionel Messi poses after inspiring France to another World Cup final.
Griezmann produced a man-of-the-match performance as reigning champions France ended Morocco’s historic run to the semi-finals with a 2-0 victory which set up a showdown with Argentina in Sunday’s final.
The 31-year-old insists France will be prepared to defend their crown against Messi and co, revealing they will begin devising a gameplan immediately on Thursday.
“Any team with Messi in is a totally different proposition,” Griezmann told his post-match press conference. “We’ve seen practically all of the matches at this World Cup, we’ve seen Argentina play, we know how they play, they are a difficult team to play and team who are on top form.
“Of course, there isn’t only Messi, they have a strong side around him, so we know it’s going to be a tough game. We know they are going to have a lot of support from the crowd. So, we going to get to work tomorrow, talk about it, see what to focus on and where we can hurt them and defend against them. We will be well prepared.”
Griezmann redefining his role in dazzling fashion
Sky Sports’ Jack Wilkinson:
Antoine Griezmann’s redeployment at the heart of France’s bid for World Cup glory in Qatar was hailed as a stroke of genius even before a ball had been kicked at the Al Bayt Stadium. His latest mesmerising performance, dismantling Morocco’s history-making run to the semi-finals, only enhanced such an assessment.
Morocco had beaten Belgium, Spain and Portugal in a series of gutsy performances en route to the last four. Their endeavour would even see the Atlas Lions temporarily halt Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud’s pursuit of the Golden Boot, but their performance, however spirited, just couldn’t account for Griezmann.
After injuries to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante before the World Cup, Deschamps’ hand was forced. In an apparent move of desperation, the world champions turned to Griezmann to fill the chasm vacated by two stars of their triumph in Russia four years prior. It was billed as a gamble but has blossomed into a masterstroke.
How Griezmann, a scorer of great goals who scooped the player of the tournament award and Golden Boot at Euro 2016, and inspired France to glory at the 2018 World Cup, has evolved into a box-to-box midfielder, as capable defensively as he is in attack, is the remarkable tale of France’s progress to another final.
Against Morocco, Griezmann created twice as many chances as any other player on the pitch and was instrumental in the run-up to Theo Hernandez’s opener with a superb pivot in behind. But his repeated effectiveness in defence was just as crucial, with three clearances, two tackles and two interceptions keeping Morocco at arm’s length throughout.
Mbappe and Lionel Messi will understandably dominate the build-up to Sunday’s World Cup final. But if France are to retain the crown Griezmann helped secure in Russia, you can be certain his fingerprints will be all over it again, albeit in a different guise.
‘This is the Antoine Griezmann show’
Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy:
“Will the heir to the throne, Kylian Mbappe, who already has a World Cup title to his name, or the player that’s been the best in the world for as long as we can remember, Lionel Messi, who doesn’t have that World Cup status, come out on top?
“It’s going to be a huge battle between Mbappe and Messi, but the final between France and Argentina is about so much more than just that.
“I’ve followed Argentina and France from their very first training sessions in Qatar and the contrast between them is actually quite incredible.
“At Argentina’s first session, the entire press pack was talking about this being Messi’s big chance to win the World Cup. They had that feeling and were on a 35-game winning run. There was a sense of calmness but of course, they had that jolt from Saudi Arabia.
“There are times when they don’t look that good, but Messi takes games by the scruff of the neck for them and does things only Messi can do.
“Then you look at France and at their first session there were journalists saying there were too many players missing for Didier Deschamps’ side to mount a challenge. The core of the team has been gutted through injury.
“However, after a few games they started to understand. The sense of unity in that squad is remarkable, and even though England outplayed them for large spells and Morocco played even better than England did against France, there was never really a sense of actual danger for them. They are so calm, so composed and they know what they have to do.
“I know everyone wants me to talk about Mbappe and build up the Mbappe vs Messi battle in the final, but this has been the Griezmann show. He has been France’s standout player.
“He was absolutely everywhere on the pitch against Morocco. Everything they built up in terms of attack came from him. Some of their last-ditch defending was him. He’s an unreal player.”
Deschamps anticipating tight World Cup final
Head coach Didier Deschamps will become the first man in history to win the World Cup as a player and twice as a manager if France overcome Argentina in Sunday’s final in a match the 54-year-old thinks will be determined by the finest of margins.
“I’m always proud when I achieve a result like this,” Deschamps said. “It’s great to get through to the final on Sunday. It wasn’t an easy victory, but we showed our quality, experience and team spirit. We had to dig deep, even in the challenging moments of the match, and as a coach I am very proud of my players.”
On Sunday’s World Cup final, Deschamps continued: “Lionel Messi has been in scintillating form at the beginning of the tournament. Four years ago [in Russia] things were different, he actually played as a centre forward against us, which caught us by surprise. Whereas now he is playing in behind the centre forward, he’s picking up the ball a lot, running with it, is in great form and is, of course, one of the greatest players in the world.
“We saw a very strong Argentina team against Croatia but in previous matches they haven’t always been as strong. We weren’t perfect against England or Morocco, at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half. They put us under a lot of pressure, and we could have played better.
“But in a final against Argentina both teams are playing a better team than they have played so far in the tournament, and we have two sides with a great deal of quality. It will be up to key players to make a difference, and maybe the team that makes fewer mistakes will win the game. Whoever manages to do that will win the match.”
Benzema to make sensational return in final?
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Deschamps refused to rule out Karim Benzema making a sensational in Sunday’s World Cup final.
The Ballon D’or winner suffered a thigh injury in France’s first training session in Qatar but Deschamps chose not to call up a replacement, meaning the Real Madrid striker remains part of the France squad and could be available for selection, were he was deemed fit enough.
In his post-match press conference tonight, Deschamps was asked: “There’s a report today that Benzema could come back to Qatar. First of all, is it true? And is there any possibility that you could use him for a few minutes, if you needed him?”
An exasperated Deschamps smiled and then replied: “I don’t really want to answer that question. Next question. I do apologise.”
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