Euro 2016 poster boy Antoine Griezmann enhanced his love affair with the French public as his two goals last night put the hosts into the final with a 2-0 win over Germany.
he 25-year-old Atletico Madrid forward became the highest scorer at a single European Championships since the great Michel Platini scored nine for Les Bleus in 1984.
They won the tournament on home soil that year and, having also lifted the 1998 World Cup in Paris, the omens are all pointing towards another domestic triumph against Portugal at the Stade de France on Sunday.
Griezmann’s first came via a controversially-awarded penalty in first-half added time but there was no debate about his second – and sixth of the tournament – 18 minutes from the end.
Germany enjoyed almost 70 per cent first-half possession in a performance of control and dominance which was lacking only a goal – and that proved to be their undoing.
Griezmann’s early weak effort after cutting inside extended Manuel Neuer down to his left but did not seriously trouble the German goalkeeper, but aside from a couple of comfortable free-kicks the play was predominantly in one direction. Hugo Lloris saved from Emre Can and Bastian Schweinsteiger, while centre-back Samuel Umtiti just managed to hack the ball off the toes of Thomas Muller on the edge of the six-yard area as the world champions left France chasing shadows.
Without the defensive cover of Leicester’s Premier League-winning midfielder N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba – for whom Manchester United have reportedly opened negotiations over a potential £100 million transfer from Juventus – were almost overwhelmed in the centre of the park.
France’s one clear chance fell to Olivier Giroud but the Arsenal striker’s lack of pace when clean through allowed Benedikt Howedes to get across and dispossess him.
Then came the controversy when Patrice Evra’s header from a corner hit the raised arm of a jumping Schweinsteiger and, virtually unbeknown to the teams and rest of the stadium, Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded a penalty which Griezmann subsequently slotted home.
Having tried to start the second half positively France were soon pushed back as Germany re-established their dominance, still without actually threatening too much.
France coach Didier Deschamps delayed introducing Kante until 20 minutes from the end, removing the more attack-minded Dimitri Payet, but the midfielder’s job was immediately made easier by France’s second.
Joshua Kimmich’s mistake inside his own penalty area presented the ball to Pogba, whose cross was palmed away by Neuer straight to Griezmann and he stabbed home.
Germany persisted, with Kimmich hitting the post, substitute Leroy Sane nearly scoring with his first touch, Howedes heading over and Kimmich denied by a fine Lloris save at the death as their lack of ingenuity in the final third proved their undoing.