Prior to France’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay in their latest FIFA World Cup warm-up match at OGC Nice’s Allianz Riviera, speculation was swirling regarding Bayern Munich man Franck Ribery’s fitness with his participation in the tournament in jeopardy, per Luke Augustus of the Daily Mail.
Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps told the media after the match that the 31-year-old would be in the final 23-man squad due to be submitted to FIFA by Monday, per Agence France-Presse’s Tom Williams.
However, the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship winner’s addressing of the press suggests that the concerns over Ribery’s recent back problems are genuine.
In the continued absence of the French No. 7 on Sunday night, Queens Park Rangers’ Loic Remy started on the left side of a front three that also featured Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and Olympique de Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena.
However, for 64 minutes France looked wasteful in attack.
Giroud was working hard but not taking his chances, and the main beneficiary of the Arsenal man’s labour—the lively Remy—was also passing up the opportunities coming his way. It was then that Deschamps decided to throw on Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann for the QPR man to liven his team up.
The effect was immediate.
Les Bleus were suddenly more fluent going forward, although they initially continued to struggle to take the chances they created. Griezmann was moving inside to a more central role, causing the Paraguayan defenders to panic.
Moussa Sissoko burst forward on the right and—had his cut-back been a little more intricate—the Newcastle United man would have found Griezmann lurking by the penalty spot unmarked and ready to fire home his first goal at senior international level.
The French No. 11 did not have to wait much longer.
In the 81st minute, Griezmann curled home a lovely effort from the edge of the penalty area—just over the head of fellow substitute Eliaquim Mangala—and into the net. Deschamps’ change had successfully reinvigorated the team, and although the defence let that one-goal lead slip before the end of the game, it should not detract from the impact that the youngster had on the game.
Griezmann proved himself to be more effective than Remy—not necessarily the second choice on the left behind Ribery but certainly ahead of the Sociedad man in terms of seniority—but the three-times-capped talent unlocked a stubborn defence that the QPR player and Giroud were unable to.
Considering how Ribery is not the same player for France as he is for his club Bayern Munich, there is an argument rapidly emerging that Griezmann is now France’s most effective left-sided player in current form.
The 23-year-old has enjoyed a productive season at club level and is now arguably ready for bigger and better things at a larger side—domestically or on the continent—but he is taking to international football like a duck to water as well.
Against the Netherlands he looked encouraging, then he looked even better against Norway in Paris earlier this week. Sunday, against Paraguay, he got a taste for scoring goals for his country—something Ribery has not done enough of during his international career.
Deschamps will be sorely tempted—especially if the Bayern man is still struggling for fitness approaching Sunday’s final warm-up match against Jamaica—to start Griezmann in France’s World Cup opener in Porto Alegre on June 15.
Prior to the Paraguay clash, there were still some question marks over whether starting the talented but inexperienced rising star in place of the perennial underperformer who excels at club level—but continually disappoints with his country—is a real possibility.
Griezmann’s 26-minute cameo in Nice proved that it genuinely is an option for Deschamps already. On top of that, France look better with him on the pitch than they do without.
With the likes of Real Madrid duo Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane still to return to the fold after their extended UEFA Champions League duties with the Spanish giants, that is a major plus to temper the disappointment of the draw against Paraguay with.
The introduction of Benzema to the equation—a striker who has failed to replicate his prolific club form at international level—could make Les Bleus more clinical if the Real man gets the right service.
Griezmann—along with Deschamps’ mainstay Valbuena—could be the player to deliver that.
With one game left to play against Jamaica, the only way to find out is by trying it. But in doing that, Ribery’s potential match time would be limited, possibly pushing Griezmann to the front of the line in terms of the starting XI for the opener against Honduras in less than a fortnight.