Striking up a new French frontline

Antoine Griezmann (left) and Kevin Gameiro were on target for France in their 4-1 win over Bulgaria on Friday, and France coach Didier Deschamps hopes the duo can continue their fine form against the Netherlands.
Antoine Griezmann (left) and Kevin Gameiro were on target for France in their 4-1 win over Bulgaria on Friday, and France coach Didier Deschamps hopes the duo can continue their fine form against the Netherlands.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Griezmann and Gameiro hope to develop lethal partnership for France and Atletico

AMSTERDAM • Kevin Gameiro was a lone figure as he watched France's Euro 2016 matches from television screens in Seville.

The Frenchman - who played for Sevilla before his move to Atletico Madrid on July 30 - said that his omission from the France squad was largely due to his former club not being "well-publicised" enough in his homeland. As a result, he felt that he was "forgotten".

All he could do was to watch his compatriot Antoine Griezmann end the European Championship as top scorer and the Player of the Tournament.

A few months on, Gameiro and Griezmann are forging a lethal strike partnership for both Atletico and France.

Gameiro was determined for his qualities to be known to the whole of France, so much so that he has overtaken the likes of Andre-Pierre Gignac, Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial in Les Bleus' forward line.

On Friday, he scored twice and Griezmann netted once as France beat Bulgaria 4-1 in their 2018 World Cup qualifying Group A match.

According to Fifa.com, Griezmann believes their relationship has been a hit from day one - both on and off the pitch.

"We always try to be in the dressing room together," the 25-year-old said of his 29-year-old sidekick.

"He likes to have a laugh and so do I, so that part was easy. On the pitch he is a great striker. His movement is very good, so I'm always looking to find him. He's assisted three of my six goals (for Atletico) this season."

France coach Didier Deschamps was also pleased with Gameiro's output at the Stade de France.

"He is there to score goals, and he scored two," said the man who lifted the World Cup at the same venue in 1998.

"He played for the team. His movement was also very interesting. We saw that his combination with Antoine worked very well."

Deschamps will be hoping that the duo's strike partnership will continue to progress, especially against the Netherlands tonight in a crunch World Cup 2018 qualifier, with both teams on four points at the top of Group A alongside Sweden.

He will be buoyed, however, after Netherlands captain Wesley Sneijder was ruled out of the clash because of a hamstring injury.

Sneijder hobbled off at half-time in Friday's 4-1 win over Belarus in Rotterdam but had hoped to recover in time for the meeting with France at the Amsterdam Arena.

However, Netherlands coach Danny Blind had anticipated Sneijder's absence and on Saturday called up Feyenoord's Tonny Vilhenna as cover.

"France will be a difficult opponent. Their players are used to being involved in top matches every weekend, they are physically strong, which means we need to take them head-on," Blind told a news conference in Alkmaar yesterday.

"But I'm thinking about winning. We can absolutely do it. The French also have their weaknesses, they give away far too much room and we can profit from that. We will certainly be playing to win."

Blind kept his line-up and tactics close to his chest but did hint at strengthening the defence or midfield for today's match.

"You can allow for some periods of slackness by ensuring extra security at the back, or in the midfield. We have several options," he said.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Striking up a new French frontline'. Print Edition | Subscribe