One of the major questions that England faced coming into their FIFA 2022 World Cup quarterfinal with France was how to slow down Kylian Mbappe. Gareth Southgate's men found the answer to that particular poser but failed to account for Antoine Griezmann's brilliance in a 2-1 French win as he became his nation's all-time top assist provider with 28.
The direct threat of Mbappe's searing pace is not linked to the creative talents of the Atletico Madrid man and his ability to keep Olivier Giroud supplied. It was Griezmann who teed up both Aurelien Tchouameni and the AC Milan target man at Al Bayt Stadium and almost singlehandedly put Les Bleus into next week's semifinal against Morocco.
However, it was not only the 31-year-old's creativity that came to the fore against the English -- it was a more complete version of Griezmann with a greater tenacious streak than ever. He did pull the strings going forward and boasted 100% first-half pass completion but he also got involved physically when the midfield were starting to get overrun which helped to turn the tide.
18 - Antoine Griezmann created more chances (18) and recorded more Expected Assists (2.94) than any other player at the 2022 World Cup, while no one provided more assists than the Frenchman this tournament (3). Grizou. pic.twitter.com/v9DdityeDd— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) December 10, 2022
There was something of Atleti coach Diego Simeone to Griezmann's approach to the game where he gave his England counterparts the sort of physical battle that not many expected from such a diminutive figure. Didier Deschamps has been working with his No. 7 on that part of his game since their arrival in Qatar and it paid off here and will be important again in the Morocco clash.
Griezmann's latest playmaking clinic was a continuation of the building form we have seen from him since the tournament got underway with the Frenchman already leading the way for clear chances created coming out of the group stage. He might not be racking up the assists, but he is often the architect of Les Bleus' best openings with someone else taking the direct credit.
In many ways, this was a throwback to 2018 in that Griezmann was more directly involved in both goals by teeing up Tchouameni in the way that he has done Paul Pogba in the past. However, perhaps most recognizable from that Russia success was the understanding between Giroud and Griezmann which enabled the latter to create that one chance he knew the veteran could take.
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"It was extraordinary," admitted Giroud post-match. "We worked super well defensive once we took the lead -- it reminded me of Belgium in 2018. Unfortunately, we conceded a penalty. Towards the end of the match, we got a few chances. I knew that we were going to have another and 'Grizi' gave me a fantastic ball. I am very proud. This evening it was a truly great match, we knew the potential of this young English generation. It was the mental side of things where we got the win."
Deschamps' loyalty to Griezmann has been impressive and sometimes bewildering since that Moscow success given the detrimental impact of an ill-advised Barcelona move. The pair's reconstruction project, though, has been equally masterful in terms of the execution but particularly notable in its timing.
The pair have turned Griezmann's relative lack of regular playing time this season into a positive given his comparative freshness. That improving match fitness has also enabled the Atleti man to expand his capacity to allow for more of a defensive shift in the middle to aid Tchouameni and a surprisingly good Adrien Rabiot.
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘪𝘧𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘬𝘦𝘦𝘱𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘨𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 🎁@AntoGriezmann provided his 𝟮𝟳𝘁𝗵 and 𝟮𝟴𝘁𝗵 assists against England, an 𝗮𝗹𝗹-𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗼𝗿𝗱 in Blue 🥇🇫🇷#FiersdetreBleus pic.twitter.com/3Q0bo0AD9E— French Team ⭐⭐ (@FrenchTeam) December 11, 2022
France lost control in the middle after the Real Madrid man's booking which will not cost him his place against the Moroccans given that yellow cards are wiped after the quarterfinals. However, it was Griezmann acting as a third midfielder that enabled Les Bleus to create a few late chances with Jordan Pickford notably denying Giroud before his winning goal.
Should the French get all the way back to the final despite losing so many regular starters in the build-up to Qatar, Griezmann's rejuvenation will be hailed as one of the major success stories of this World Cup campaign. Now he and his teammates need to see it to fruition against Morocco before a potential matchup with Argentina or rematch against 2018 victims Croatia.
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