Antoine Griezmann's impact was hard to miss on Monday evening. With the scores level between France and Nigeria, the Real Sociedad striker came into the game with just under 30 minutes to go, and by the end of the 90 minutes, France had won 2-0.
Griezmann's introduction made the difference, but if Didier Deschamps wants to have a chance at beating Germany on Friday, he has to keep the 23-year-old on the bench and use him as a high-impact substitute.
Before the game against Nigeria, Deschamps was faced with a huge decision: to start with the front line that destroyed Switzerland in the second group game or go with the mobility that dispatched Honduras in the opening game of the tournament.
Against the physicality of the Nigerians, Deschamps went with the strength and size of Olivier Giroud as the target man, playing Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena off the front man.
Although it worked to perfection against Jamaica and Switzerland, creating 13 goals in the two occasions they lined up with the same front line, it failed to spark any success against the well-organised Nigerian defence.
Nigeria's narrow back four stopped Giroud finding the space to help bring his strike partners into the game, and Benzema struggled to get in behind the back line. As the game continued, he cut a frustrated figure out on the left.
In previous games, Benzema had looked hungry and willing to find the space, moving inside to join Giroud and dropping deep to create opportunities; this didn't look like the same player who helped this tactic work previously.
Griezmann's introduction changed the game. The Nigerians were tired, as they had worked so hard as a unit to keep Giroud and Benzema at bay. The Real Madrid forward moved inside and Griezmann attacked down the flanks.
It seems this is how Deschamps saw the game going when he spoke to the FIFA website after the game.
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.
Now the calls will be to play Griezmann from the start, but under the heat and hard work of the Nigerian defence, Griezmann may not have had the same influence if he had started the game. It was the young forward's pace and movement with the game becoming a little more stretched that made the difference.
Deschamps seemed to agree that it may not have been as effective:
I could have gone with that option from the start and maybe it would have worked and maybe it wouldn't. 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.
After the game, Griezmann himself could see the difficulties that his teammates had in the first 60 minutes.
I tried to help the team by playing one-touch passes. 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.
The key line from Griezmann is that Giroud and Benzema had worn down the Nigerian defence. With the midfield not able to play with the same intensity for the full 90 minutes, there was more space for the mobility of Benzema and Griezmann to start causing problems.
If Deschamps starts with Giroud on the bench, he all but nullifies the Arsenal forward; he is close to useless coming off the bench, but Griezmann is such a dynamic firecracker of a player that he can have such an important impact in the last 30 minutes.
In the heat of Rio de Janeiro, against the somewhat makeshift full-backs that Germany will play, it would be a fantastic option to bring Griezmann off the bench to cause maximum impact.
Benzema needs to show more desire when played slightly out of position. He has shown that it can work and he can put in the work rate required to play the role to perfection.
The French attack can't rely on the impact of Griezmann alone—they need to do more to beat up the German defence before their super-sub makes his appearance.
Griezmann has done more than enough to merit a start against Germany, but for Deschamps to get the most out of his four most able attackers, Griezmann should be asked once again to make a telling impact from the bench.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!