By Mark Gleeson
MOSCOW (Reuters) – If Antoine Griezmann’s jocular demeanor is anything to go by, France are far from overawed by the prospect of playing in the World Cup final and in buoyant spirits ahead of Sunday’s clash with Croatia.
The diminutive striker was full of bonhomie on Friday at a news conference at the team’s training base outside of Moscow, joking with and teasing reporters as well as the team’s veteran press officer Philippe Tournon, who retires after the tournament.
“We lost when I was top goal scorer at Euro 2016,” he joked, “so this time I’ve tried to score fewer goals to see if it helped us to win.
“I have tried to manage my play, when to keep the ball, when to accelerate. If I score, so much the better, but I am a player who thinks first of all about the team.”
He cut short a questioner who wanted a response to criticism from Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who accused the French of playing negative football in their semi-final on Tuesday.
“No, no, no … Let’s not go there. I don’t care about that. I want the star (on the jersey). How we play to win the game I do not care! Thibaut Courtois must stop (his criticism). Does his team Chelsea play like Barcelona?”
On the tactics for Sunday’s final at the Luzhniki Stadium, Griezmann hinted that coach Didier Deschamps was hatching particular plans.
“It’s up to the coach to choose the tactics, but there is (Luka) Modric and also (Ivan) Rakitic to consider. These are two very technically strong players who are essential for Croatia. Their game goes through them, and I think the coach has something in his back pocket.”
Asked what he had learned about himself over the last month of intense competition and being cloistered away in camp with the team, he said: “That I have remained the same. I play Fortnite all day, drink my mate and that’s what I love about me.”
Fortnite is a survival video game and mate South American tea that Griezmann learnt to drink from his Uruguayan teammates at Atletico Madrid.
But he insisted he remains a Frenchman at heart despite his playing career being spent in Spain.
“We have to be proud to be French. That’s not said often enough. We in France have a beautiful country, a good team, we eat well, we have good players – even good journalists,” he added, promptly laughter.
At the end of the conference he led the press in a standing ovation for 74-year-old Tournon, who sat next to him on the podium through a 30-minute discourse.
Tournon has been the press officer of the French team since 1986, working with nine coaches. The World Cup final marks his 337th and last match in the role.
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