2022 World Cup – Thursday 15 December 2022

France 2 (1) – (0) 0 Morocco (Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor)

France scorers: Hernandez (5′), Kolo Muani (79′)


France and their fans will be on a high this morning after reaching their second successive World Cup final, the first team to achieve this since Brazil who appeared in three finals on the bounce, 1994, 1998 and 2002. However, they will also be letting out a major sigh of relief as they were pushed all the way by a tenacious and skillful Morocco team.

Despite going a goal down after just five minutes through an acrobatic finish from Theo Hernandez and the early loss of skipper Romain Saiss, who was clearly not fit, and backed by their incredible support, the Atlas Lions gave it their all. They dominated possession and matched the French in terms of attempts on goal yet couldn’t find a way past Lloris and a French defence that remained calm despite the pressure and who sealed their place in the final with a tap-in from Kolo Muani with eleven minutes remaining.

The talk ahead of Sunday’s final will be about Messi and Mbappe, but the star last night was Antoine Griezmann who playing now in a deeper role for his country, was simply outstanding, popping up at the back, winning balls in midfield and getting Les Bleus attacks going. He yet could be the key in the final.

For Morocco this tournament has seen them truly arrive on the World stage, and they will face Croatia in the 3rd/4th place play-off game on Saturday. Ironically the opening game for these two at the group stage, in a game that ended 0-0. They will want to finish on a high and it could mean that its more of a game than the often training ground approach that some teams have adopted down the years.

Finally a note on the referee who I thought let far too much go and should have produced more yellow cards. His approach left players with the ability to commit fouls without fear of a card and disrupted the flow of the game. As much as I enjoyed watching it last night, it brought home how easily players go down these days, looking to win fouls and getting the opposition booked. Who’d be a ref?

Book Review: Getting to the Top of World Football: My Autobiography by Antoine Griezmann

As the Barca-Atletico transfer saga rumbles on, there isn’t a better time to read Antoine Griezmann’s autobiography. Originally published in his native France in 2017, in many ways that initial version finished before arguably the biggest moments in Griezmann’s career – that defining World Cup win in Russia in 2018, but with the English translation only just appearing, Ric George has updated the book to fill in that crucial 2018 chapter. Although, the publishers may now rue not leaving it a few months more, with the Barca deal having recently been signed – if not yet sealed.

Indeed, as it currently reads, the additional chapter ends with Griezmann’s rejection of a move to Barcelona last year and his signing of a five-year contract with Atletico that would see him play for the wonderfully named Los Colchoneros (meaning The Mattress-Makers) until 2023. Roll on a year and how things have changed – The Mattress-Makers have been put to bed and Griezmann has just penned a five-year deal with Barca that will see him through at the Camp Nou until 2024 – as things currently stand.

It would have been interesting to have the player’s insight on this apparent about-turn, but as it is we can only speculate on the motivations of a man who admitted the previous year that it was difficult to turn down Barcelona but ‘there is the club where you are, where you are an important player and where they build a project around you.’ And, reading the autobiography, Griezmann does come across as a loyal character; he stayed with Real Sociedad for five years and the same period at Atletico despite interest from Manchester United – the home of his idol, David Beckham – amongst others. The move to Barcelona now, after his rejection last year, then raises a few questions, but whatever his reasons or motivations, this transfer marks an incredible journey from a boy who was rejected several times over by clubs in France as a teenager to joining arguably the biggest team in world football.

The story of those early years in particular is eye-opening: the rounds of trials and rejections that many aspiring footballers struggle through – and Griezmann’s downfall: his size. French football at the time placed its emphasis firmly on physique over skill, which begs the question which other potential players slipped through the net. But, fortunately, Griezmann benefited from Spain’s footballing philosophy – in which quality trumps size every time – and thank goodness for that – with the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas and Messi to have come through their system.

However, it was Real Sociedad, not Barcelona, that initially saw in Griezmann his potential and gave him his chance as a mere thirteen-year-old, thanks in no small part to Eric Olhats, who was the man to spot Griezmann’s talent and take him to Spain. At thirteen, Griezmann left behind his parents and siblings in France to follow his dream in a new country – a prospect which seems all the more daunting in the days before mass mobile and internet communication. But such is the determination and sacrifice that defines champions.

Griezmann’s time at Sociedad, Atletico and breaking through into the Under 21 national side – and his subsequent suspension – before finally turning out for Les Bleus is all included, though perhaps not as in as much detail as one might expect. What he does go into detail about, though, is his love for David Beckham. He is unashamed in his admiration for both Beckham as a footballer and a brand and it’s really refreshing to see a footballer playing the role of a fan – and a superfan at that. The other love that shines through is that for his family and reading of the events of 13 November 2015 in which he, his parents and his sister Maud were variously caught up in the atrocious terrorist attack is a poignant reminder of how, fundamentally, footballers are men and women with families and loved ones.

On the football pitch, the image that comes across of Griezmann in the autobiography is someone who wants to enjoy his football, first and foremost, but beyond everything he says it is clear that there is a steely will to not only win collectively but to be the best individually. So perhaps his feted move to Barcelona now, at the age of 28, isn’t such a surprise after all. For with a World Cup under his belt, but only a domestic Super Cup to his name, League and Champions League titles are what are needed to finally propel him from his third-place Ballon D’Or Award in 2016 and 2018 and playing alongside Messi may just help lift Griezmann out of his shadow.

Jade Craddock

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