AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Darting runs. Key tackles. Timely interceptions. Calming passes.
Antoine Griezmann did it all for France on Wednesday, and now he’s going to his second World Cup final.
Griezmann had exceptional moments in both penalty areas — and all parts of the field in between, really — to help France beat an impressive Morocco 2-0 in the semifinals at Al Bayt Stadium.
It was a compete showcase of a gifted player who has reinvented himself at this year’s World Cup. And he will now try to deny Lionel Messi, his former teammate at Barcelona, of a first World Cup title on Sunday.
Griezmann played as a winger at the 2014 World Cup, then was France’s key scoring threat in its 2018 title win. He’s now an all-purpose midfielder creating chances for his teammates and snuffing out opposing threats.
“Griezmannkante,” wrote Paul Pogba admiringly on his Instagram account after the final whistle. Pogba and N’Golo Kante, a relentless ball recovery specialist, were the midfield heart of France’s last title-winning team and their absences in Qatar because of injury put more responsibility on the 31-year-old Griezmann.
It was an older, wiser Griezmann who reflected after being voted player of the match on how this semifinal win felt different to four years ago, when Belgium was beaten 1-0.
“Against Belgium, I cried,” Griezmann said. “I think now I am more focused. I am already focused on the final on Sunday. I try to keep my feet on the ground. I am more composed.”
His perfectly timed run beyond the Morocco defense carried the ball into the penalty area that led to the early opening goal on Wednesday. Theo Hernández was the eventual beneficiary in the fifth minute.
When Morocco put France under severe pressure in the second half, Griezmann responded with tackles, headers and blocks. All his boundless energy was needed before the win was sealed by substitute Randal Kolo Muani’s instant impact — and instant goal — in the 79th.
“Remarkable,” France right back Jules Koundé said of Griezmann. “He works hard, blocks the holes and then every time he touches the ball he tries to light up the game.”
When it was over, Griezmann slowly raised both arms and walked across the field to hug defender Ibrahima Konaté, who also was an immense barrier to Morocco’s persistent attacks.
Griezmann then went to console some of his opponents, seeking out goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who also plays in the Spanish league.
Griezmann has become a perfect example of how France has evolved after 10 years under coach Didier Deschamps.
The team reached the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014 and then played in the 2016 European Championship final, losing to Portugal at home in Paris. The French followed that with the World Cup title in 2018, and they’ll get a chance to win a third in their history on Sunday against Argentina at Lusail Stadium.
The spine of this team — goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, center back Raphaël Varane, Griezmann and striker Olivier Giroud — has been a constant presence. Mbappé’s explosive speed and goals entered the mix in 2017 and have brought glory to the second half of the Deschamps era.
On Sunday, there may yet be more to add to the already impressive list of achievements.
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