One's man pain is said to be another man's gain, but not according to Antoine Griezmann. Despite owing his starting spot at Brazil 2014 to Franck Ribery's unfortunate withdrawal, the forward would have much preferred playing alongside France's most gifted player of recent years.
That said, the Real Sociedad youngster is not exactly devastated to be getting a taste of the FIFA World Cup™. "If you'd told me I'd be in the line-up for that game, I wouldn't have believed it," he told FIFA after Les Bleus dispatched Honduras 3-0 in their opener. "Everything happens very quickly in football, though. You have to be ready."
Many would say Griezmann has been ready for a long time. Superb at youth level, he shone especially bright as France finished fourth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011. He then continued to impress for the U-21s, further bolstering his case for promotion to the senior side. But while his youthful insouciance caught the eye, so too did at least one youthful indiscretion. After an unauthorised late night out during a training camp ahead of a crucial U-21 match, Griezmann was suspended from all of France's national teams between November 2012 and December 2013.
It was a tough blow for a player excelling for his club at a time when France's forwards were struggling for goals and Les Bleus were stuttering on the road to Brazil. In the end, the winger failed to make a single appearance during qualifying, missing out too on the vital 3-0 second-leg victory against play-off rivals Ukraine – but that did not stop Didier Deschamps handing him a first cap against the Netherlands as soon as his suspension had been served.
"I feel like I've really found my place in this team," Griezmann said, three months on from his debut. "With every side I've played for, I've always tried to fit in and joke with my team-mates, while enjoying good times with them on and off the pitch. And that's what's happened with Les Bleus."
Promise to build on
Griezmann's early integration went so smoothly, in fact, that when Deschamps announced his 23-man squad for Brazil, he had no hesitation calling up a player still with a single cap under his belt. The newcomer promptly added more during France's warm-up games, and celebrated his maiden international goal in a 1-1 draw with Paraguay.
"I already felt good in the side, but that goal gave me even more confidence," explained the Macon native, who was turned down by several French clubs in his youth due to his supposedly frail physique. "Since then, I've started taking more risks and trying my luck more often."
The Sociedad stalwart certainly looked uninhibited against Honduras, when he constantly tried to create danger on the left wing, fired a shot against the crossbar and generally linked up well with Karim Benzema. "He's a fantastic striker who's indispensable for the team when he's full of confidence, as he was against Honduras," said Griezmann, more used to operating on the right or through the middle in the Spanish Liga. "I often try to find him, combine with him and give him good passes, but you can even send him a missile and he'll be able to control it. That's what him a top-class player."
The compliments could well begin flowing in the opposite direction if Griezmann continues to perform as well as he has done thus far. "Technique-wise, he has a good rapport with the other players, especially in attack," commented Deschamps after the Honduras victory. "He has a certain quality and sparkle that make him a different type of player to the others. He's still learning; that was his first World Cup game. What he did was very good, but he needs to build on it."
The 23-year-old hopes to do precisely that in France's next outing against Switzerland, the first meeting between the teams since Germany 2006. Coincidentally, that game also happened to be the first outing at World Cup level for a certain Franck Ribery, who stirred up expectations with a superb display. Lest we forget, he too was urged to build on his early promise.