Take a bow, Antoine Greizmann.
The great Greizmann
The French striker deservedly did so when substituted in the last minute of his country’s 2-0 semi-final victory over Germany, as he produced a man of the match performance and scored both goals to send Les Bleus through to the final of Euro 2016.
Whilst the role Greizmann has played in France’s run to the final cannot be underestimated, neither too can the contribution made by several of his team mates, who despite not making as many headlines as the Atletico Madrid player, have emerged as heroes in their own right for Didier Deschamps’ side.
The first player to do so was Dimitri Payet. With France labouring to a 1-1 draw in their opening game of the tournament against Romania, the 29-year-old West Ham United playmaker scored a brilliant last minute winner, to transform the mood inside the Stade de France from one of frustration to jubilation.
Whilst Payet’s superb goal endeared him to the French supporters, so too did his emotionally charged celebration. Immediately after that Payet was substituted by Deschamps so as to receive a standing ovation from the French faithful.
Subsequently in addition to scoring in France’s second group stage game as Les Bleus beat Albania 2-0, Payet found the net in his country’s 5-2 quarter final win over Iceland.
Defiant defensive unit
During that game the centre back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Samuel Umtiti defended unconvincingly but recovered to form a wonderfully solid partnership in France’s semi-final win over Germany, with Hugo Lloris also performing heroically to keep a clean sheet against the World Champions.
Lloris has been in inspired form throughout the finals, producing great saves at vital moments. That has been all the more commendable given that the French captain has not otherwise been overly busy during his country’s games. As such, Lloris’ ability to pull off outstanding saves has testified his superb levels of concentration and focus, which manager Deschamps demands be displayed by the entire French squad.
Sissoko’s successful emergence
Another key member of that is Moussa Sissoko. Despite being overlooked for a place in France’s first XI at the beginning of the tournament by Deschamps, who instead chose to play N’Golo Kante in midfield alongside Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, Sissoko started and performed excellently as Les Bleus emphatically beat Iceland 5-2.
The Newcastle United midfielder was afforded the opportunity to do so since Kante was suspended for the match after picking up his second yellow card of the finals in the previous round against the Republic of Ireland. Deschamps retained faith in Sissoko for the semi-final with Germany, which the 26-year-old handsomely repaid with another assured display, to put forward an extremely strong case for starting France’s final against Portugal.
Absolutely certain to do so, barring the emergence of any unforeseen circumstances are Pogba, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, who have been ever present and performed consistently well in the French campaign, during which Matuidi has enhanced his reputation as being one of the best box-to-box midfielder‘s in Europe.
Whilst Les Bleus progression to the final has owed much to the goal-scoring and creative talents of Greizmann, it has also been inspired by a cohesive and well disciplined team effort, which has been powered by many members of their squad including the unheralded quintet of Koscielny, Lloris, Payet, Sissoko and Umtiti.