Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Griezmann’s struggle open for Nkunku in World Cup

PARIS ( Associated Press) — Antoine Griezmann’s dangerous fall means his World Cup starting spot for France is under threat from Christopher Nkunku.

If Griezmann’s struggles continue in the two internationals in September, coach Didier Deschamps could opt for Leipzig’s Nkunku, when France begin their title defense in Qatar two months later.

“They have two different profiles. Christopher is probably more striker than Antoine, more of a producer,” Deschamps said recently. “Athletically they are not the same, and not just in terms of size and physique.”

The 24-year-old Nkunku is a fast and skilled player who works as a forward or attacking midfielder. He was voted the best player of the German league last season by his fellow professionals after scoring 35 goals in total and providing 14 league assists. In contrast, Griezmann has not scored for France or Atletico Madrid since the beginning of January.

Nkunku started ahead of Griezmann in a Nations League match against Croatia on Monday. In the first match in Austria, Nkunku came off the bench and set up the equalizer for Kylian Mbappe with a clever pass.,

Nkunku’s playing style gives a more direct approach to France.

“Christopher is good in the air too. Even though he isn’t that tall, he jumps well, and can score runs in space,” Deschamps said. “Antoine can do that too, but he’s in buildup and organization. more involved.”

For many years, it would have been unthinkable for Deschamps to leave Griezmann, who is very close to the player and admires his selfless attitude. Griezmann has played 108 times, but his recent performance was not good and he was relegated after 63 minutes in Austria.

“He knows he’s not in his best form. It shows the impact he has on his game and our attack,” Deschamps said recently. “It’s not his best period. Some physical in it, some mental. (But) I’m not saying he’s tired.

Something that doesn’t change with Griezmann is that he never stops working hard. France teammate Karim Benzema said “it’s important to look at the other things that he does, the way he backs up and defends.”

“He will score at some level,” Benzema said.

Griezmann is third on France’s list of all-time scorers with 42 goals. But the 31-year-old forward’s scoring touch has eluded him to such an extent that he scored only three league goals in 26 appearances for Atletico last season.

It is a far cry from his illustrious spell with Colconeros, when he scored a total of 133 goals in 257 games before joining Barcelona in 2021. He did well there, but his comeback of 35 goals in 102 games fell short of expectations and his confidence took off. to be lacking

Fast forward to Monday night at the Stade de France, and Griezmann only came on for the final 15 minutes against Croatia. Les Blaises lost 1–0 and relinquished the Nations League title., Rock-bottom France face the prospect of relegation to the second tier league and return home to Austria on 22 September and Denmark three days later.

Those games could also affect whether Griezmann is a starter or a substitute when France begin their title defense against Australia in Qatar on 22 November.

However, his place in the team seems to be confirmed.

“I know his potential and his mental strength. He doesn’t have his best period, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to question what he’s capable of,” Deschamps said. “I know very well what he brings.”

Griezmann started the season with Barcelona before rejoining Atletico. He said the way clubs prepare for the season has affected his form in the national team.

“I was a little tired physically after my efforts, just like my club. My preseason with Barcelona was completely different from the way Atletico played,” Griezmann said after their 2-1 loss to Denmark on 3 June when he came out after 78 minutes.

He predicts that he will be “much better physically” after a full preseason with Atletico.

Deschamps has other things on his mind, not least to sort out his squad. France looked poor in the Nations League, losing at home to Denmark and Croatia, and Croatia also drew.

“We have to question everything. We lacked strength, character and energy. The highest level can be forgiving,” Deschamps said. “I hope we can get our strength back and the players get their fighting spirit back. Can some of them get ahead of themselves?”

Such poor form does not suit France, who also reached the final of the European Championship in 2016.

“We have a lot to show if we want to keep our position,” Deschamps said. “From the moment you’re not doing things well, you should do your own self-criticism.”

There were mitigating conditions such as injuries to key midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, and central defender Rafael Varane – who played only one game.

“We have had more injuries than ever before,” Deschamps said.

Some of the tactical choices he made were questioned, such as switching from a three-man defense to a four-man unit.

“Because you have a system, it doesn’t mean you have to live with it,” Deschamps said, sounding somewhat confused about how his own team should play.


More Associated Press Soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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