Antoine Griezmann is no miracle worker, but mysterious forces seemed to be at work as France took on a new dimension after his 62nd-minute introduction against Nigeria. With the young winger added to the fray in their Round of 16 tie,Les Bleus quickly upped the tempo and eked out a pair of goals in the final 11 minutes.
Griezmann even prompted the second himself, with Joseph Yobo diverting the ball into his own net under pressure from the Real Sociedad player. "I tried to get a touch at the near post, but I wasn't able to," he told FIFA, eyes glimmering at the prospect of a spot in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals.
Griezmann's presence also led indirectly to France's opener, scored by Paul Pogba on 79 minutes from a corner won by Karim Benzema. Initially fielded out left to allow Olivier Giroud to start up front, Benzema appeared far less at ease than he had against Switzerland, when Didier Deschamps had last tried that formula. Nothing seemed to be going right for the Real Madrid striker – or his Arsenal colleague, for that matter – but swapping Griezmann for Giroud allowed Deschamps to switch things around up front.
"Karim moved back into the position he prefers, in the middle where he had a bit more space," Deschamps explained to FIFA. "Those are the kinds of options you can use during a game, depending also on what your opponents do in the first hour. I think we were a lot fresher than them at the end."
The France coach was not surprised by the way the match unfolded. "It's the game I was expecting against Nigeria, who have a real physical presence. We had to be able to meet that challenge for the first hour, then in the last half an hour make more use of our pace and dynamism. We took advantage of the fact that the four Nigerian forwards defended a little less in the last 20 minutes."
Having Griezmann on the pitch gave Les Bleus a valuable outlet as they looked to press home that advantage, and the 23-year-old was able to reflect afterwards on a job well done. "I tried to help the team by playing one-touch passes," he said. "I'm happy with my performance. You could see in the first half that it was difficult to get behind them, but it was better after the break. When I came on, I made runs in behind the defence. The rest of the team had worn their defence down well before I came on."
'Mobility and pace'
"I could have gone with that option from the start and maybe it would have worked and maybe it wouldn't," added Deschamps. "Instead, I decided to have a target man in the middle, with Olivier Giroud fighting for balls in the air against their defence. Antoine has other qualities, obviously – lots of mobility and pace."
He has brought an injection of vitality too, having been involved in France's senior set-up for less than six months. Indeed, as one of the newest faces in the squad and a potentially game-changing figure from the bench, Griezmann calls to mind Franck Ribery – France's big absentee this year – when the Bayern Munich star exploded on to the scene at Germany 2006.
Like Ribery that summer, the Macon native oozes energy and nonchalance on the pitch, but his youthfulness is evident on the bench too, where he watches games with a rare intensity. "I feel stressed and I want to be out on the pitch," he said. When there's a chance, I get up, I want to jump in fact - I can't stay still. And when the coach gives me the nod, I try to give everything."
Having such a talented and motivated subs bench could well prove crucial for Deschamps in France's quarter-final meeting with Germany, as the competition continues to hot up in Brazil. The former midfielder will also draw strength from his team's capacity to grind out a victory in tough circumstances. "That'll make us even stronger," he said. "We had a very good group stage and finished first, but every match is decisive now. To be one of the eight teams left in the quarter-finals makes me very proud. My players deserve it."