KEIR RADNEDGE in MARSEILLE: Two-goal Antoine Griezmann never had any seconds thoughts when he had the opportunity to take the crucial penalty which propelled France towards Sunday’s Euro 2016 final against Portugal.
In May the French striker missed a penalty, crucially, when playing for Atletico de Madrid against city neighbours Real in the Champions League Final in Milan.
But when the opportunity arose in the second minute of first-half stoppage time in the Euro semi-final against world champions Germany, Griezmann immediately seized the hall. He maintained his composure as the Germans raged around Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli and then sent keeper Manuel Neuer the wrong way to open the scoring.
Griezmann, referring back to events in Milan, said: “I really wanted to take a penalty in another important match like this and I’m pleased to have taken that decision and to have scored. I didn’t think twice about it.”
The reward for Griezmann’s courage and confidence was to be in the right place at the right time midway through the second half to score the killing second goal after all sorts of confusion in the German defence.
Griezmann said: “I was just lurking to see if there might be a mistake from he goalkeeper and sure enough the ball dropped to my feet and I was delighted.”
With six goals he is the finals’ leading scorer and it will take something remarkable in the final for even Cristiano Ronaldo to overtake him.
Above all, Griezmann was delighted with the all-round achievement of the French team in reaching the final.
He said: “We knew it was going to be very tough but we held firm in defence and had a great goalkeeper [Hugo Lloris] behind us. In attack we were always trying to create danger. It was a team effort, which includes the backroom staff and the players who don’t usually get on the pitch. I’m delighted for everyone.
“It was also great to be able to go over ad share the victory with the fans. It was a fantastic experience and we hope to relive that again in the final. It will be 50-50 because anything can happen in a one-off game. But we hope to finish with a flourish.”
Griezmann explained also how the players had taken on board an extra responsibility to put a smile back on the face of France, even if only briefly, after the various crises in the country including the terrorist attacks and then social and labour unrest.
He said: “Just before the tournament President Hollande came to talk to us about the security measures in and around the stadia. Our duty was to win our matches, to try to entertain the French people, and try to go all the way in this competition.
“That was our responsibility as the French national side.”
Griezmann’s delight in victory was echoed by his team-mates.
Arsenal centre-forward Olivier Giroud had particular words of praise for Griezmann, saying: “It was great for him to be in the right place at the right time. He’s grown into the tournament as it has gone on. He’s our little man who gives us something extra.
“Now we want all the French people to turn up on Sunday and we’ll hope there’s a great ending for all of us.”
Newcastle winger Moussa Sissoko had a different perspective by comparison with his attacking club-mates. While they can look forward next season to more Champions League football his prospect is a promotion campaign out of the English second division with Newcastle United.
Sissoko said: “This is incredible for me because at club level I haven’t had the opportunity to play top matches so now I hope we can complete the job. It’ll be a tough fixture but if we put everything into it as we can then we won’t be far off. Reaching the Euro final is abolutely huge.”
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