France are heading back to soccer’s elite and Antoine Griezmann is the man leading the way.
Griezmann scored both goals to give France a 2-0 win over world champions Germany on Thursday and a place in tomorrow’s Euro 2016 final against Portugal.
It was a victory built as much on Germany errors as it was on Griezmann’s skill, with a handball in the penalty area and a poor defensive pass paving the way for his goals, but that did not matter to the fans, who made the Stade Velodrome in Marseille ring with the sound of the Marseillaise, France’s national anthem. Their team won the tournament in 2000, two years after lifting the FIFA World Cup, but they have not won a trophy since then.
Developed as a player in Spain, Griezmann has been the star of the show for France, leading a high-scoring team with six goals, twice as many as any other player in the tournament.
“I think there’s a lot of happiness around France tonight,” said coach Didier Deschamps, whose team faces Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal at the Stade de France tomorrow. “This team has everything it needs to be loved, I’m very proud... It’s fabulous to be in the final.”
Griezmann, who could have completed a hat-trick in the 86th minute, but shot straight at goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, was already looking ahead.
“We’re very happy,” he said. “We have to keep our feet on the ground. We still have a match to go.”
For Germany, the defeat cost them the chance to add the European title to the World Cup they won in Brazil in 2014.
They had gone 50 years unbeaten against host nations at major tournaments, dating back to their loss to England in the 1966 FIFA World Cup final and encompassing a famous 7-1 humbling of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals.
While a repeat of the Brazil rout was never on the cards, Germany could have scored more than once as they dominated the first half, but they were denied by poor shooting from Thomas Mueller, who ended his tournament scoreless, and a save by Hugo Lloris to block Emre Can’s bouncing shot.
France took the lead from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage-time after Bastian Schweinsteiger handled the ball in an aerial challenge with Patrice Evra.
Griezmann stepped up to score, striking the penalty hard to Neuer’s right.
“I really wanted to take a penalty in a big match like that. I was very composed, I didn’t think twice,” Griezmann said.
It was the second time in as many games that Germany had given away a spot-kick for handball. Jerome Boateng blocked the ball with an arm above his head in the quarter-final against Italy.
“It’s just bad luck, just an unlucky action,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said of the penalty. “In a challenge, when you’re jumping, there are movements that you can’t really control.”
Trailing in a match for the first time in the tournament, Germany could not recover their previous dominance after halftime. They then had to cope with losing key defender Boateng, who picked up an ankle injury after an hour.
The Germany defense had not conceded from open play all tournament, but they fell apart for Griezmann’s second goal in the 72nd minute.
A sluggish pass by Benedikt Hoewedes to rightback Joshua Kimmich was cut out by Paul Pogba and Neuer could only palm away the midfielder’s cross to Griezmann, who finished with ease.
Germany responded well and could have pulled one back when Kimmich hit the post, before Julian Draxler sent a free-kick narrowly wide and Hoewedes headed over.
“We had chances to come back,” Neuer said. “We played a good European Championship and it’s very bitter to go out.”
Loew said his team had played better than France, but had been denied by “bad luck,” including the injuries and suspensions that hit four key players — Boateng, as well as defender Mats Hummels, midfielder Sami Khedira and forward Mario Gomez, with the latter three missing the game.
Loew, who is under contract until the 2018 FIFA World Cup, said he was not sure of his future.
France, while not always reassuring in defense, came through victorious in their first game of the tournament against genuinely top-class opposition.
After the final whistle, France’s jubilant players celebrated with the fans by performing the “Huh” chant made famous at the tournament by Iceland.
Across France the attention was firmly on the diminutive Griezmann after another decisive performance.
“He’s our little man that gives us that bit extra,” fellow striker Olivier Giroud said.
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