France bank on slow-starter Griezmann to come good at World Cup


MOSCOW, June 25, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – World Cup contenders France are waiting
for star striker Antoine Griezmann to hit his stride as they aim to secure
top spot in Group C against Denmark on Tuesday.

Griezmann signed an extension with Atletico Madrid through to 2023 last
week despite strong interest from Barcelona, but the 27-year-old has yet to
find his best form in Russia.

While he scored from the penalty spot in an opening 2-1 win over
Australia, his sluggish start to the tournament mirrors his early travails at
Euro 2016 where Griezmann finished as top scorer.

“I think he will get stronger, I hope he does. That was the case at the
Euros, he started slowly and finished very strong. I’m not worried about
him,” said Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud.

Griezmann scored six goals as France finished runners-up to Portugal at
the European Championship, clicking into gear as the competition progressed
and netting five times in the knockout stages.

“He has had a long, gruelling season. He’s played a huge number of
matches,” added Giroud, with Griezmann helping Atletico claim a third Europa
League title.

“When you have a bit less in your legs, it’s harder to be at ease on the
pitch, but he’s still very important for us.”

Griezmann himself admitted there is room for improvement as France target
a deep run at the World Cup.

“I’m going to get better and I’m sure the level everyone expects,
including myself, is going to come quickly,” he told French TV channel TF1.

– ‘Avoid Croatia’ –

Didier Deschamps’ side are already qualified and would clinch first place
with a draw in Moscow, a result that would also send Denmark through as
runners-up irrespective of Australia’s result against Peru.

Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso is keen to avoid Croatia in the
last 16, even if finishing top could mean a blockbuster clash with Lionel
Messi’s Argentina.

“Croatia will come out of Group D, so above all we have to avoid finishing
second to avoid meeting them,” said Tolisso, who started the first game
against Australia.

“Between Nigeria, Iceland and Argentina, they are all good teams.

“We know the Argentines have very strong individuals, notably Lionel
Messi,” he added. “You never know what’s going to happen in a match. But we
know the last 16 will be difficult, regardless of the opponent.”

Second-placed Denmark beat Peru 1-0 in their first game before a 1-1 draw
with Australia to extend their unbeaten run to 17 matches.

Age Hareide’s side are looking to reach the latter stages at a World Cup
for the first time since 2002.

“France may be considered among the favourites and have six points but
they have not been finishing off opponents,” Hareide told Danish newspaper “They have been pushed to the wire to get the points.”

“They played well in the friendlies, but have not played well so far in
the World Cup,” he added.

Yussuf Poulsen is suspended after he collected a second booking in as many
outings against Australia, the forward picking up a harsh yellow card
following a VAR-awarded penalty.

Denmark are hopeful midfielder William Kvist will return at some stage
after breaking two ribs and suffering a punctured lung against Peru, although
it won’t be in time to face France.