payet-and-griezmann

The 25-year-old Atletico Madrid striker is the tournament’s leading scorer with four goals, the first Frenchman to hit that milestone at a major tournament since Michel Platini in 1984.

 Despite being rejected at youth level by several French clubs because of his size, the cosmopolitan forward appears to be hitting his stride. The Panenka looks at the growth of the man who is undoubtedly Didier Deschamps’ biggest weapon when Les Blues take on Die Mannschaft in the semi-final of Euro 2016

Antoine Griezmann and France are preparing to take on Germany in the semi-final of Euro 2016 on July 7 in Marseille.

The blue-eyed, blond haired forward once reportedly asked for the shorts of his Les Blues hero Zinedine Zindane who’s Euro 2000 triumph he is looking to emulate on home turf this month.

Born in the German-French region of France, the Alsace, to a family with Portuguese roots, Griezmann was given a baptism of fire when he left France as a 13-year-old to join Real Sociedad, learning the culture of Spain and its football in the Basque country.

Once rejected by French Ligue 1 side Lyon for being too small, Griezmann was salvaged by a scout for the Spanish league side, Eric Olhats, who moved him to Spain and took him under his wing.

Griezmann was not even a starter for Real Sociedad’s B team when the coach Martín Lasarte called him up to the first-team squad for pre-season training. Warned that Griezmann was not near the finished article yet, Lasarte, a Uruguayan, had nonetheless seen something in him that recalled another young forward he had given a debut, Luis Suárez.

“It is hard to explain but I had no doubts,” Lasarte told The Guardian. “The feeling was very similar to what I felt with Luis. They share something in how clearly they see things, how sure they are of where they’re heading and what they want. Luis wanted to get to Barcelona, Antoine to play for France. He was serious, focused, and technically talented. He was also fun, mischievous, winding people up: he looks like an angel with those blue eyes but he’s the devil.”

Xabi Prieto is La Real’s veteran captain. “Antoine was very shy off the pitch but on it he was daring, bold. Bit by bit, he opened up and that shyness was a thing of the past pretty quickly,” told The Guardian.

“The thing that stood out for me was his first touch which was always very clean and he had something: even if he disappeared the whole game he’d be there to get the winner.

“What he’s achieved doesn’t surprise me because he never accepted limits, he always wanted more. He used to ask the older players questions all the time, what he could improve, what advice they could give him.”

Lyon’s chief scout, Gerard Bonneau, told Spanish newspaper AS that Lyon’s failure to sign the talent Griezmann had been “a historic mistake.” Griezmann made 200 appearances for Real Sociedad before joining Atletico Madird $35 million in 2014.

“I was struggling for air, and my legs felt so heavy,” Griezmann said of his first weeks at Vicente Calderon. Despite leading the line for France it is clear that after a decade of settling in, Spain is home now. So much so that he once revealed that he often thinks in French but curses in Spanish.

Furthermore the cultured forward has felt the influence of South Americans, adopting the Mate tea as a constant by his side with the help of players such as Diego Godin, Christian “Cebolla” Rodriguez and inspirational Argentine coach Diego Simeone.

At Euro 2016 Griezman’s importance to the France team was underlined when he scored two second half goals to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Republic of Ireland. However, the real masterstroke of the game was to move the Atletico forward into the middle from the wing.

The French newspaper Libération suggested that the decision to move Griezmann inside in the second half was the players’ suggestion, not the idea of the coach who had already left him out once in the group stage. “We spoke among ourselves: we had to sort it out, show that we’re France,” said Griezmann, who had already alerted him to the “imbalance” created by a role on the right. The shift saved France.

For a player of his size, he is remarkably good in the air, uncoiling his slight frame to unleash considerable power. Two of his four goals at this tournament have been headers. Griezmann’s awareness, touch and skill, allied to pace, a low center of gravity and great movement.

Against Iceland, Griezmann scored one and created goals for midfielder Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet, who has begun a habit of kissing Griezmann’s trusty left boot in thanks for a goal.

It’s a scene that Deschamps clearly wants to be repeated on Thursday, though it is likely to be a very tight match. “We’ll have to give everything against Germany,” Griezmann said.

Germany play France in the semi-final of Euro 2016 in Marseille on July 7 at 3:00PM ET.