With six goals at the finals, Antoine Griezmann is being hailed as the Michel Platini of UEFA EURO 2016; who would have predicted that? Me, says team reporter David Crossan.
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Antoine Griezmann's popularity has skyrocketed during UEFA EURO 2016. Fatigued at the onset of the championship, France's national hero is now all but certain to walk away with the adidas Golden Boot. Five of his six goals have come in the knockout stage, the Atlético Madrid man being nicknamed "our little Monsieur Plus" by fellow forward Olivier Giroud.
Didier Deschamps had to defend Griezmann early on in these finals. He was withdrawn after 66 minutes of the opener with Romania and started on the bench against Albania, the 25-year-old feeling the effects of an arduous 54-game club season which culminated in defeat in the UEFA Champions League final.
Memories of that loss to Real Madrid flooded back when France were awarded a penalty against Germany at the end of Thursday's first half in Marseille. Griezmann had missed from the spot in the May final, and was up against Manuel Neuer – acclaimed as the world's best goalkeeper, and star of Germany's shoot-out success over Italy.
Griezmann was calmness personified, sending Neuer the wrong way. He said: "I had another chance to take a penalty in a big game. I managed to keep my cool. I didn't doubt myself."
An admiring Giroud said: "He took responsibility with the penalty and put it in the back of the net. In the second half he was in the right place at the right time to score again. He has got better and better at this EURO, and he helps us a lot. I'm happy for him. He is our little Monsieur Plus."
Griezmann is already to UEFA EURO 2016 what Michel Platini was to France's successful EURO '84 campaign on home soil. Platini netted nine times in that competition, including two hat-tricks and a goal in the final. However, a modest Griezmann played down the comparison: "I'm happy with my goals but I'm still a long way off Platini's level. I hope one day to get close to his standard."
There is a short turnaround for France with Sunday's showdown with Portugal starting under 72 hours after the Vélodrome semi-final. Will France start as favourites? "No, I'd make it 50-50," Griezmann told EURO2016.com. "It's a final and anything can happen. We have to keep both feet on the ground and start working from tomorrow in order to be at our best for the final."
EURO2016.com told you it first. This is what I wrote in mid-May:
"Griezmann could emerge as the modern-day equivalent to Platini in 1984. The Atlético forward scored 22 goals in the Spanish league season and the 25-year-old is the darling of the French supporters. The exciting left-footer sees things quickly, has the talent to make good on his intent, and enjoys an excellent understanding with Giroud, the likely starter at centre-forward."