Antoine Griezmann had plenty of painful memories to erase in Thursday’s European Championship semi-final against Germany and he did that in style, scoring twice to lead the host nation to an historic 2-0 victory over the world champions.
Already a fans’ favourites and now the tournament’s top scorer with six goals, the goal machine with the boyish looks will again be France’s most dangerous weapon when they face Portugal in Sunday’s final.
“He is our little man that gives us that little bit extra,” fellow striker Olivier Giroud said of the frail 25-year-old with the magic touch.
Griezmann was remembered for his tears after France lost 1-0 to eventual winners Germany in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final in Brazil.
He was all smiles on Thursday, however, when coach Didier Deschamps substituted him in the closing stages so he could leave the Marseille pitch to a standing ovation from the wild fans packing the Velodrome stadium on a hot and humid night.
Griezmann, whose goals helped Atletico Madrid advance to the Champions League final this year, opened the scoring with a penalty just before halftime exploited a rare blunder from Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after the break to settle the match.
“I wanted to retake a penalty in a crucial moment,” said Griezmann, who missed from the spot in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.
“On the second goal, I was waiting for an error from the goalie and it fell at my feet.”
Griezmann, one of the top three players in the world according to Atletico coach Diego Simeone, started the tournament in sluggish fashion and some feared a gruelling season had taken his toll.
Just like France, however, he improved and his surging runs made all the difference. By contrast, Germany played most their matches without a proper striker, Mario Goetze looking lost in that role in earlier games just as Thomas Mueller did on Thursday.
Griezmann had a traumatic experience the last time he faced Germany in November, on the night of the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people across the French capital.
The young forward found out that his sister Maud was at a rock concert at the Bataclan hall, where 90 people were shot dead, and he had to wait a few hours before knowing she had escaped unhurt.
All those images must have been on his mind during the semi-final but his feelings after the final whistle were all about pride and joy.
Griezmann is now the most prolific striker at a European Championship finals since the great Michel Platini, who scored nine times in France’s 1984 triumph on home soil.
“Scoring goals is nice but I’m nowhere near Platini,” Griezmann said after playing a decisive role in France’s first victory over Germany at a major tournament in 58 years.
“I hope I can get closer to him. Playing a final is great but it’s winning it that counts”.