France has shaken off the curse of the defending champions at the World Cup by qualifying for the knockout stages with one game to go before the group stage, and that’s largely because Antoine Griezmann has regained his best level.
Griezmann has played as an attacking midfielder rather than a pure striker, brilliantly linking midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot and the attacking trio of Ousmane Dembélé, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappé.
“He covers a lot of space, he has the ability to defend and to make others play. He’s the Antoine we know, the Antoine who’s fit,” centre-back Raphael Varane told reporters after France beat Denmark 2-1 to reach the knockout stages with six goals for and two against in two games.
Griezmann assisted Mbappe in the 86th minute on the game-defining move, but the Atletico Madrid attacker did much more than that, accompanying Olivier Giroud, throwing himself on the wings and creating play for his teammates.
Like Dembélé, Griezmann played selflessly, leaving the spotlight to Mbappé.
“I probably ask him for different things,” coach Didier Deschamps said. “He is very generous. He likes to build plays. He will score fewer goals, because there are other players up front, but he is very useful, intelligent. It provides balance to the team.”
Griezmann is also happy with his role.
“I’m proud of myself, yes, but also of the whole team. Statistics are one thing, but everyone has made an incredible effort,” he said.
France will play Tunisia on Wednesday in their final Group D match.