isIt was a bold statement from Didier Deschamps even if, as overlord of the world champions, he was amply qualified to do so. “He’s one of the greatest players of all time in Europe and around the world,” Deschamps said of an essential part of the favorite France squad to win the European Championship as well.
Kylian Mbappé? N’Golo Kanté? The international version of Paul Pogba? Wrong. He was talking about Antoine Griezmann.
Deschamps’ statement could be dismissed at Barcelona, where the £ 120million striker has been decried as yet another symbol of their costly decline. In France, on the other hand, we recognize the selfless contribution of thirty-something to their triumphant rise. Griezmann’s manager is the main one among the admirers.
Against Hungary on Saturday, as victory would secure France’s place in the round of 16 with a group game to go, Griezmann will extend a record-breaking streak for his country to 50 consecutive matches. He has started all 35 competitive matches in that streak, which started in August 2017, and hasn’t missed a single competitive international under Deschamps since his debut seven years ago. France were rewarded with 37 goals in 92 outings.
“Beyond the fact that he plays in consecutive matches, and wonderfully, all his activity and his volume of play show that he is perhaps no longer 20 years old but that he takes very good care of himself” , explained Deschamps. “He’s a professional and he managed to avoid the various injuries he could have suffered. The statistics speak for themselves. You can see the influence he has for the France team through the goals he scores and his assists.
“If we add to that the ability he has to change the game, to get stuck when we have to defend and we don’t have the ball, he is one of the greatest players of all time in Europe and in the world. ”
Griezmann embodied the characteristics Hugo Lloris described as France’s greatest strength in the first relentless victory over Germany. “The will to win is the real strength of our team,” insisted the goalkeeper of France and Tottenham. “This team spirit and this competitive advantage that we have, whoever the opponent is, means that we want to win and we want to win together. “
The striker led France’s resistance against late pressure from Germany on Tuesday, relentlessly coming back and throwing himself into tackles but not at the expense of helping Mbappé and Karim Benzema at the other end of the pitch.
Deschamps added: “He’s one of the leaders, the technical leaders of the team. He is one of those players who changes the game with the way he moves, the control he has with the ball and the goals he is able to score. His assists. He’s an offensive player, a very creative player and he has this ability to think outside the box. It’s something he’s proven to us time and time again, it’s remarkable to watch, even though he’s happy to come back and defend. Maybe he’s doing it a little too much.
“I think Barcelona and Atlético were also able to make the most of it. I’m not going to take that away from him. It’s only natural for him to come back and defend when needed and it’s important for our balance. That doesn’t stop him from being a great player and having a huge presence on the pitch when it comes to his efficiency up front.
France changed their training schedules to 3 p.m. after Germany’s victory to prepare for the kick-off on Saturday afternoon. They also had to take into account soaring temperatures in Budapest, with the match set to be played in 32 ° C (90 ° F) heat. “To start with, we are delighted to play against Hungary in a full stadium with a good atmosphere and a lot of color,” said Lloris. “Hungary will have its 12th man behind it. Heat will also be an important factor.
“This is something that we have taken into consideration with our preparations, with our sleep, our hydration and what we eat. We really hope there will be a water break during the game for both teams. “
Lloris and Deschamps both stressed the importance of dealing with the Hungarian threat on set pieces. France haven’t conceded a goal from a set piece in their last 13 international matches, so they should be well prepared. Another issue to be addressed, or a readjustment to be made, 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’s going to be a little more complicated to get along,” admitted the France goalkeeper. “I imagine we can 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 skip lines like we do. I won’t be able to scream in front of forwards or even attacking midfielders, but these are things 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 among ourselves but also with the supporters in the stadium – is really the heart of football. “