France coach Didier Deschamps has hailed Antoine Griezmann for playing a leading role in Les Bleus’ run to the World Cup semi-finals after going through ‘difficult times’.
Deschamps’ side face Morocco in the second semi-final on Wednesday, with France aiming to become the first European nation to reach successive World Cup finals since Italy in 1938.
While Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud have grabbed the headlines, Griezmann has also been key to the starters’ progress despite being used in a new position, mostly in midfield.
The Atletico Madrid player has created more chances (17) and registered more expected assists (2.9) than anyone else at the tournament, while his two assists against England in the quarter-finals raised to three for the campaign – no one has more.
Moreover, his 28 appearances in late-shooting open play streaks are just behind Mbappe (40) in the France squad, underscoring his influence in their build-up game.
After several difficult years with Barcelona and back at Atletico, Griezmann’s form surprised some, but not Deschamps.
“Yes, he had a great tournament, but we will need him to be as good [on Wednesday]”, Deschamps told reporters at Tuesday’s pre-match press conference.
“He’s the type of player who can really change a team because he’s so hardworking and so technically gifted. He plays a slightly different role in this World Cup, but that suits him well.
“He loves defending as much as attacking and being a playmaker. Of course, his main responsibility is not to win the ball; his left foot is so wonderful that he creates chances for others.
“He’s someone who always thinks about the team first. He works extremely hard, probably more than most players.
“He’s been an elite player for 10 years now. Of course, he’s been through tough times like any other player, but he’s mentally very strong. Like all world-class players, he’s at his best in the most important games.”
Dayot Upamecano is another impressive French player in Qatar after having to overcome some difficulties.
Although a regular at Bundesliga level since the age of 18, Upamecano only won his first senior cap just before he turned 22.
Then last year he ended up with the Under-21s instead of in Deschamps’ Euro 2020 squad as he paid the price for a few unconvincing first appearances for the Blues .
However, he has started all but one of France’s World Cup games, and Deschamps is pleased to see he has broken through some psychological barriers that previously held his progress back.
“Dayot had a problem with his mental toughness which I think prevented him from being the best player we knew he could become,” added the coach.
“He managed to overcome these challenges, he feels more relaxed, more confident. I think that’s what helped him reach his best level and show the qualities he has.
“He’s very fit, good at tackling, good at passing. Sometimes he tries to do a bit too much with his passing, he’s too ambitious, but he listens to advice, he’s open-minded, relaxed, happy.
“Some players can be introverted in nature like him, so they might need more time to develop and grow.
“But I’m quite convinced when a player has potential that he will eventually flourish even if sometimes I have to recognize that there are other players in the squad who can also be very strong and have their role to play. to play.
“So yeah, he’s been through some tough times, but now he’s relaxed, more confident and showing he’s a top player.”