Griezmann the brains behind France's convincing World Cup start

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group D - France v Denmark - Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar - November 26, 2022 France's Antoine Griezmann in action with Denmark's Christian Eriksen REUTERS/Marko Djurica

DOHA, Nov 27 (Reuters) - France have shaken off the curse of the defending champions at the World Cup by qualifying for the knockout phase with a game to spare, and it is largely due to Antoine Griezmann's return to his best.

Griezmann has played as an attacking midfielder rather than a pure forward, brilliantly making the link between midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot and the attacking trio of Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe.

"He covers a lot of space, he has the ability to defend and to make others play. It's the Antoine we know, the Antoine who is in form," centre back Raphael Varane told reporters after France beat Denmark 2-1 on Saturday to advance to the last 16 having scored six and conceded two goals.

Griezmann set up Mbappe for the 86th-minute winner with his 26th assist for the national team but the Atletico Madrid player did much more than that at the 974 Stadium.

Griezmann played mainly deep, but also often close to lone striker Giroud or even on the flanks.

"I was impressed by him," said Tchouameni.

"He's got a huge volume of play and everything is going smoothly between us. I'm impressed but not surprised. You can see him tackle at training everyday."

Like Dembele, Griezmann played selflessly, leaving the limelight to Mbappe.

"I probably ask different things from him, but there is no sacrifice on his part," said coach Didier Deschamps.

"He is so generous. He enjoys building up moves. He will score fewer goals, because there are other players up front, but he is so useful, intelligent. He provides the team with a good balance.

"I could have played him on the right flank of the attack instead of Ousmane (Dembele) but that's not were he would be the most useful to the team."

And Griezmann is also happy in the role.

"I'm proud of myself yes but I'm also proud of the whole team. Statistics are one thing, but everyone made an incredible effort," he said.

France play Tunisia in their last Group D match on Wednesday.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond

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