Football: Antoine Griezmann doesn't care about winning ugly as long as France lift the World Cup

France striker Antoine Griezmann in a relaxed mood at the team's training base outside Moscow yesterday, ahead of tomorrow's World Cup final against Croatia. He took a swipe at Belgium's Thibaut Courtois for criticising France's style of play in thei
France striker Antoine Griezmann in a relaxed mood at the team's training base outside Moscow yesterday, ahead of tomorrow's World Cup final against Croatia. He took a swipe at Belgium's Thibaut Courtois for criticising France's style of play in their semi-final.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Erasing pain of Euro '16 vital for Deschamps' men as they seek to win with no-frills football

MOSCOW • If Antoine Griezmann's jocular demeanour is anything to go by, France are far from overawed by the prospect of playing in the World Cup final and are in buoyant spirits ahead of tomorrow's clash with Croatia.

The diminutive striker was full of bonhomie yesterday at a news conference at the team's training base outside of Moscow, joking with and teasing reporters as well as the team's veteran press officer Philippe Tournon, who retires after the tournament.

"We lost when I was top goal scorer at Euro 2016, so this time I've tried to score fewer goals to see if it helped us to win," he joked.

"I have tried to manage my play, when to keep the ball, when to accelerate. If I score, so much the better, but I am a player who thinks first of all about the team."

The prevailing mood belies the pain France still carry from losing the final of Euro 2016 on home soil to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.

"The tears have dried from Euro 2016 but it's still there in a little corner of people's minds," admitted midfielder Blaise Matuidi yesterday.

"It will be useful for us on Sunday, even if I don't like to keep bringing up the past. It will serve as a lesson to us and it means we know what it is to play in a final.

"We'll approach it differently and hope that we play really well and win it."

Indeed, Les Bleus have made adjustments, with coach Didier Deschamps abandoning plans for a free-flowing side in favour of a no-frills yet highly effective winning machine that has kept four clean sheets in six games.

He has coaxed Paul Pogba, often criticised for his lack of defensive nous in a Manchester United shirt, to roll up his sleeves.

The flamboyant star has formed a chalk-and-cheese midfield combination with the quiet N'Golo Kante, providing the perfect screen in front of the defence.

"I want to win this World Cup and you have to make sacrifices," said the 25-year-old Pogba. "Defending isn't my strong point, I'm not N'Golo, but I'll happily do it. I have grown up, matured."

Griezmann, on a more serious note, insisted that style is secondary in Russia as France seek a second World Cup title - 20 years after their first.

He vowed that they will do whatever it takes to win, hitting back at Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois' criticism that Les Bleus epitomised "anti-football".

"Does Courtois think that at Chelsea he plays Barcelona football?" the 27-year-old said. "I don't care how, I want a second star to be on this (France) shirt. That is all."

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has declared this the best-ever World Cup, praising the hosts' organisation and generosity.

"Today, I can say it with more conviction... it is the best World Cup," the head of world football's governing body told reporters.

The 48-year-old felt that preconceived notions of the country had been changed by the positive experiences of more than one million fans who had visited.

"Thanks to this World Cup, everyone has discovered a beautiful, welcoming country, full of people keen to show to the world what maybe sometimes is said is not what happens here," he said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2018, with the headline 'France aim for Bleu Riband'. Print Edition | Subscribe