Antoine Griezmann rescued France in front of a hostile home crowd, turning boos into bouncing, and whistling into singing with a fantastic second-half performance. Griezmann's brilliant brace turned around an early 1-0 deficit and it all started with a tactical change -- a change that could be the key to France's success at these Euros.
For the first half of France's 2-1 win over Ireland, Antoine Griezmann was all but invisible. Shunted out wide as Didier Deschamps attempted once more to shoehorn Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N'Golo Kante into his three-man midfield, Griezmann struggled. Deschamps finally adjusted in the second half, bringing Kingsley Coman on for Kante and moving Griezmann in behind Olivier Giroud. That's all Griezmann needed to find his way into the match and the little Atletico Madrid man changed the game for France.
Griezmann's strengths lend themselves perfectly to a shadow striker role, as Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone learned this season. When he can play more centrally and off a main man, able to drift wide and find pockets of space all around the pitch, he causes fits for opposing defenders. Griezmann scored 34 goals for his club playing in that role and helping Atleti to the Champions League final. But oddly enough, Deschamps showed a reluctance to accommodate the 25-year-old.
When reduced to a wide role, Griezmann's weaknesses are there for all to see. He doesn't have the searing pace of Coman, or the dribbling skill of Dimitri Payet, and can often seem exposed out wide.
Moved infield however, and his intuitive, darting runs, and wonderful spatial awareness can be absolutely devastating. Working from the center of the pitch against Ireland, it was his late run in the 58th minute and fantastic leap that equalized for France after Les Bleus went behind just three minutes in.
France's second goal was classic Griezmann, and showed exactly why Deschamps must stick with a two-man pivot in midfield so the little Alsatian the freedom to roam as a second striker, creating havoc where he will. His instinctive run off Olivier Giroud's movement and recognition of where the Arsenal man would (perfectly) flick on Adil Rami's long ball was sublime. Once he got into that position, there was no doubt that he'd tuck away his second to assure France of the win.
Blessed with talent throughout the midfield, France has struggled with finding the right mix of personnel all tournament. That was on display in the first half as Les Bleus stumbled against an Ireland team that should have been out-matched. To that point, Deschamps' entire tournament had been a search for an approach that works. Now, he may have found it, with Pogba dominant in the heart of midfield alongside a rejuvenated Matuidi, linking time and again with the fantastic Griezmann.
If they're going to be successful in this tournament, Deschamps has to put aside his stubbornness and realize what works for this team. That's a lighter midfield, and freeing Griezmann like he did against Ireland. If Deschamps does that, Griezmann might just be the man to fire them to glory in Euro 2016.
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