Belfast Telegraph

Griezmann brings joy back to France

With his sister surviving the Bataclan attack, new hero has become symbol of positivity for a nation

Showing the way: Antoine Griezmann is aiming to emulate Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane by inspiring France to a major trophy triumph on home soil
Showing the way: Antoine Griezmann is aiming to emulate Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane by inspiring France to a major trophy triumph on home soil

By Mark Ogden

For a nation that has been distracted by more serious and worrying issues than hosting a football tournament in recent months, it was perhaps inevitable that Antoine Griezmann would emerge as the poster boy who has reconciled a troubled population in the blue shirt of France.

Griezmann, the Atletico Madrid forward whose career has been spent solely in Spain since leaving his family home in Macon to play for Real Sociedad as a teenager, will lead France into the Euro 2016 final against Portugal tomorrow having scored six goals so far in the competition for Didier Deschamps' team.

The 25-year-old, with Portuguese heritage, is the smiling, joyous No.7 who has given France a reason to shift its focus back onto the football pitch following the terror attacks in Paris last November, which continue to shadow the country today.

But Griezmann's healing powers are not restricted to his contribution for the team.

With his sister, Maud, a survivor of the attack at the Bataclan Theatre which left 89 dead last year - she spoke this week of how she lay motionless on the floor for up to 90 minutes while gunmen indiscriminately shot those still alive - Griezmann has now become a positive symbol linking last November and the new sense of unity flowing through the country, with his own personal experience of the terror attacks offering a true connection to the French public.

And after scoring both goals in the 2-0 semi-final victory over Germany in Marseille on Thursday, France's new golden boy admits he and his team-mates feel a responsibility to bring joy back to the nation.

"It was our duty to win the matches, to try and entertain the French people and try and go all the way in this tournament," Griezmann said. "That's what we needed to do, representing France. I hope we can continue now in the final.

"Our duty is to win matches to give pleasure to the French. We want them to be proud of the France team and I hope we end with a beautiful story."

The anxiety and apprehension which shrouded France at the outset of Euro 2016 has dissipated during the four weeks that have seen Les Bleus evoke the spirit of Aime Jacquet's 1998 World Cup winners.

An intense security operation will be in place over the weekend ahead of the final, to safeguard against any hint of complacency, but Griezmann insists that the France stars have played in the tournament without fear of further attacks disrupting the competition.

"Just before the Romania match, the President came to talk to us about the security measures in and around the stadia," Griezmann said. "We were pretty calm."

The feel-good factor which now courses through France - the Champs Elysees erupted with the sound of car horns and flag-waving locals following the victory against Germany in Marseille - now requires a win against Portugal to secure the iconic status of Griezmann and his team-mates.

Michel Platini's nine goals at Euro '84, when France won the tournament on home soil, elevated the midfielder to a position eclipsed only by Zinedine Zidane, the inspiration behind the 1998 World Cup triumph.

Griezmann is likely to enjoy a similar status if France can overcome Portugal at the Stade de France and the player admits that the feats of Les Bleus this summer are giving inspiration to a new generation.

"We're like kids, there's a whole country behind us and we have to give 100% for them," Griezmann said. "But now we have to win the final.

"It is an immense joy to reach the final and I feel a lot of pride and happiness, but the final will be tricky. We will be ready, though.

"We can start dreaming on July 10, but we have to keep our feet on the ground up to then. It was great with the fans before and after the game in Marseille, a fantastic experience, and we hope to live that again in the final."

Griezmann is proving the man of the moment, however, with his impish smile beaming from billboards throughout the country, from Paris to Saint Etienne to Marseille.

In a country desperate for heroes to illuminate the darkness, the boy from Bourgogne has achieved that feat with his goals and effervescent personality. His two goals against Germany took him to six for the tournament and moved him ahead of Zidane in France's all-time scoring charts at the European Championships.

Platini, with those incredible nine goals at Euro '84, is the only Frenchman now ahead of Griezmann.

"I'm glad to have scored the goals I have, but I'm still far from being the player Platini was," Griezmann said. "I hope to get close to him one day."

Inspiring France to victory against Portugal will certainly help Griezmann close the gap.

"There's still one match to go to finish with a flourish," he said. "It will be very tricky, but for the rest of my career, I really hope this won't be the end of things."

France v Portugal

Euro 2016 Final: Stade de France, Tomorrow, 8.00pm

Belfast Telegraph