Boyish Griezmann shapes himself into France's superhero
By Patrick Vignal
PARIS (Reuters) - Every saga needs a hero and that role for France at the European Championship has fallen to a slight, unassuming forward with boyish looks -- Antoine Griezmann.
After Michel Platini, who fired les Bleus to the 1984 European title, and Zinedine Zidane, who inspired them to their 1998 World Cup triumph, France needed a new leading figure in their campaign for more glory on home soil.
Whatever happens in Sunday's final against Portugal, the speedy Griezmann, who scored both goals in Thursday's historic 2-0 semi-final win over world champions Germany, has probably done enough to top the scorers' table and is a worthy candidate for the best player of the tournament award.
The 25-year-old striker, who stands 1.76 metres tall, caught the eye on the big stage against Germany, driving home a penalty at the end of the first half before poking in the ball on 72 minutes following a rare blunder by Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
There was another moment in the match that showed what kind of player he is, when he took off to win an aerial duel with towering German centre back Benedikt Hoewedes.
"He is our little man that gives us that little bit extra," said fellow striker Olivier Giroud, summing up what Griezmann had just done in the Marseille game.
France rarely had the ball and spent most of the match resisting sustained pressure from the world champions but Griezmann still did what he does best: playing with the energy and enthusiasm of a little boy in a school match.
"Antoine Griezmann is a great player," coach Didier Deschamps, usually reluctant to single out someone, said after a scintillating performance by the Atletico Madrid striker.
Griezmann, who scored plenty of goals to help Atletico advance to the Champions League final, had started the tournament in sluggish fashion and some feared a gruelling season might have taken its toll.
Unlike others such as Germany's Thomas Mueller or England's Harry Kane, however, he improved from match to match, suggesting Atletico coach Diego Simeone was right to call him one of the world's top three players.
Griezmann, whose Portuguese maternal grandfather played football for Pacos de Ferreira, a small town outside Porto, was remembered for his tears after France lost 1-0 to eventual winners Germany in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final in Brazil.
He had a traumatic experience the last time he faced Germany in November, on the night of the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people across the French capital.
The young forward found out that his sister Maud was at a rock concert at the Bataclan hall, where 90 people were shot dead, and he had to wait several hours before knowing she had escaped unhurt.
In May, he missed a penalty in the Champions League final when Atletico lost to local rivals Real Madrid.
All those images must have been on his mind on Thursday but his feelings after the final whistle were all about pride and joy.
"It was our duty to win matches to give the French joy and reach the end," Griezmann said. "I hope we will make it a beautiful end."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)