France's Griezmann spreads wings with perfect timing
LYON, France (Reuters) - France striker Antoine Griezmann had looked slightly below par in their opening games at Euro 2016 and the host nation's fans feared he might be exhausted after a gruelling season.
On Sunday, however, the speedy forward reassured them by scoring twice in quick succession to help Les Bleus tame Ireland 2-1 on Lyon's Parc OL pitch and advance to the quarter-finals.
Griezmann, who went all the way to the Champions League final with Atletico Madrid, proved his legs were still fresh by equalising with a header from a Bacary Sagna cross just before the hour and then fired France in front three minutes later.
The relatively frail 25-year-old kept busy after that, coming close to increasing the lead on a couple of occasions.
"I think I started my game well and tried to come back to get the ball, but a goal gives you wings and I took advantage of that after to play on the counter," he said.
"Grizou", as his team mates affectionately call him, has reached another level this season, establishing himself as one of the most efficient forwards in European football.
It remained to be seen, however, if he could find the extra energy to deliver for the national side.
"I was never worried," Griezmann said. "I know my body and I knew I could be there at important moments. I'm glad I could help out the team and I hope I can keep doing it."
France have done things the hard way so far, needing dramatic late goals in earlier matches and having to fight back after conceding an early penalty against a spirited Ireland.
That is nothing new for Griezmann, who has experienced similar situations this season with his defensive-minded Atletico side, often lifting them out of tight spots.
"The stress has been like this all year with Atletico," he said. "We win games 1-0 and so have to keep fighting until the end. I thought it would different here with France but there you go, we have to suffer."
France's most dangerous weapon in the opening stage of the tournament had not been Griezmann but Dimitri Payet, who caught the eye with dazzling displays crowned by two sensational goals.
On Sunday, Payet said he was very happy to let Griezmann take the limelight.
"I'm not putting too much pressure on myself and we all know we need everybody here," Payet said. "Today, it was Grizou who scored two goals and we're all pleased with that".
It was not only Payet who was full of praise for team mate Griezmann, but also veteran left back Patrice Evra.
"Great players make a difference and that's what Antoine did for us tonight," said the defender.
(Writing by Patrick Vignal; Editing by Ken Ferris)