Patience pays for willing Griezmann
France may have failed to find the net in Wednesday's 0-0 draw against Ecuador, but the game provided further proof of Antoine Griezmann's growing importance to his national side.
Nominally the left-sided attacked in Didier Deschamps's 4-3-3, the Real Sociedad forward was allowed to roam across the front line and came closest to breaking the deadlock with a volley that Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez pushed onto the post.
Stealing in front of the centre-back to meet Bacary Sagna's cross with a deft left-foot touch, it was a moment that showcased the predatory instincts that saw him muster 16 goals in La Liga last season.
An injury to Franck Ribery has opened the door for Griezmann at the World Cup, but he has expressed unease about comparisons with the Bayern Munich star and his display at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana highlighted what a different player he is.
Where Ribery's game is all about cutting in from the left wing onto his preferred right foot and running at defenders, Griezmann is all left foot and, more often than not, all one touch.
He also vacates his flank willingly, abandoning the left side of the pitch to left-back Lucas Digne against Ecuador and drifting infield in pursuit of opportunities to link up with striker Karim Benzema.
His delicate but deliberate link play helped to facilitate the one-touch play that has been a cornerstone of France's attacking play in the tournament, and he almost created a first-half opener for Paul Pogba with an inviting free-kick.
"It was difficult to find a gap against a team who sat back and waited for us and played on the counter-attack," said Griezmann, who made way for Loic Remy with 11 minutes remaining.
"But it was still a good match. We tried to play as a team with (Moussa) Sissoko, Benzema and Pogba, who all tried a lot.
"We were playing against another style. And we were missing Mathieu Valbuena (who was rested)."
- 'That's the top level' -
While Griezmann has five full seasons with Real Sociedad behind him, he had to wait until a friendly against the Netherlands in March to win his first France cap.
The 23-year-old has grown used to biding his time, however, having been rejected by French sides Sochaux, Lyon, Auxerre, Saint-Etienne and Metz at the age of 13 on account of his small stature.
He was signed by Real Sociedad after being spotted whilst playing for Montpellier against Paris Saint-Germain's academy in 2005, and his Spanish exile meant he had to wait for recognition in his homeland.
"He arrived late with us," Thimothee Kolodziejczak, Griezmann's team-mate with France's Under-19 and Under-20 sides, told L'Equipe recently.
"No-one knew him. But he integrated quickly because when we saw him in training, we all said: 'Woah, that's the top level.'"
Griezmann's modesty has also allowed him to be welcomed by France's senior players, with Benzema confiding: "I talk to him and give him lots of advice. And he really listens, which is very important for a young player."
Having scored three times in his first four international games, Griezmann is yet to find the net at the World Cup, but he is confident his luck will change against Nigeria in the last 16.
Reflecting on the chance that hit the woodwork, he said: "It'll go in one day."
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