THURS­DAY/FRI­DAY GRIEZ LIGHT­NING

France for­ward hands Atletico a per­fect part­ing gift as his dou­ble sinks Mar­seille in the Europa League fi­nal

Sport360 - - Front Page - By Stuart Ap­pleby @Stu­ar­t_Ap­pleby stu­ar­tap­pleby@sport360.com

An­toine Griez­mann struck a su­perb brace to help seal Atletico Madrid’s third Europa League ti­tle on Wed­nes­day evening as Diego Sime­one’s men eased to a 3-0 suc­cess over Mar­seille in Lyon.

The France striker was in im­pe­ri­ous form and ul­ti­mately made the real dif­fer­ence as Atleti fi­nally got their hands on a first ma­jor Eu­ro­pean tro­phy since 2012, hav­ing lost their past two Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals to city ri­vals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016.

Griez­mann’s opener ar­rived in the 21st minute when he latched on to a Gabi knock-on, fol­low­ing a dis­as­trous first touch by An­dreFrank Zambo An­guissa, and then sold goal­keeper Steve Man­danda the wrong way with a clin­i­cal fin­ish.

The game was vir­tu­ally over four min­utes into the sec­ond-half as Koke found the striker’s run into the box and Griez­mann exquisitely chipped the ball home.

Cap­tain Gabi then fit­tingly added a third goal in the dy­ing mo­ments.

Ear­lier, things could have been so dif­fer­ent when Mar­seille’s in­spired cap­tain Dim­itri Payet - who later went off in­jured in the first-half had re­leased Valere Ger­main for a run on goal four min­utes in, but he spurned a great op­por­tu­nity.

A last Atleti hur­rah?

The trans­fer saga sur­round­ing the French­man and his re­port­edly im­pend­ing switch to Barcelona is set to con­tinue to dom­i­nate spec­u­la­tion all sum­mer.

With the World Cup com­ing up fast on the rails, in which the 26-year-old will be a star turn for France, the player him­self will prob­a­bly call the shots on his fu­ture. Whether his love four-year love af­fair with Atleti will be pro­longed by another 12 months or the Blau­grana meet his sup­posed ¤100m re­lease clause or not, it re­mains to be seen, but this was the per­fect way to well and truly sign off, on a big stage, in pos­si­bly his penul­ti­mate game for the club.

Griez­mann is the ful­crum to this team and loves play­ing un­der head coach Diego Sime­one.

Will that be enough to con­vince him to stay? Un­likely. Atleti have lost star strik­ers in the past: Fer­nando Tor­res, Diego For­lan and Ser­gio Aguero to name but a few, but his de­par­ture would hurt.

Payet’s World of pain?

France coach Didier Deschamps dropped Payet from his France squad for friendlies in March, in a move which served as a mas­ter­stroke. The 31-yearold, who is blessed with the kind of nat­u­ral foot­balling abil­ity only few play­ers can dream about, sub­se­quently picked him­self up from a mid-sea­son slump in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion. 10 as­sists in 11 matches fol­lowed, as well as four goals, head­ing into Wed­nes­day’s fi­nal. A re­turn to the Les Bleu fold looked cer­tain again.

But, af­ter just 32 min­utes in the fi­nal, that dream - with Deschamps nam­ing his squad for Rus­sia on Thurs­day – ap­peared ex­tin­guished for the play­maker. He limped off in tears with a mus­cu­lar prob­lem, not only know­ing that he could do noth­ing to re­ju­ve­nate a des­per­ate l’OM as their chief tal­is­man, but his World Cup hopes lie in tat­ters, too.

Sime­one is the mes­siah

The Ar­gen­tine watched the fi­nal from the stands as pun­ish­ment for his touch­line be­hav­iour dur­ing the semi-fi­nal first leg against Ar­se­nal.

A man of Sime­one’s stature and in­flu­ence was al­ways go­ing to be missed from the tech­ni­cal area - but his play­ers, like they al­ways do, gave it ev­ery­thing for their man­ager out there. Long-term lieu­tenant Ger­man Bur­gos deputised at pitch level in his ab­sence, but the cult Atleti hero still pulled all the strings to land his sec­ond Europa League crown with the club.

A fine way to round-off a stel­lar cam­paign, in which they could pip Madrid to sec­ond do­mes­ti­cally.

What next for the 48-year-old? He has a con­tract at the Wanda Metropoli­tano club un­til 2020 but is still con­tin­u­ally linked to a host of clubs, with Premier League duo Ar­se­nal and Chelsea in the mix to land the Red and White icon.

Sime­one, like Griez­mann in a way, has earned all the re­spect and has the power to weigh up his fu­ture op­tions but this man is the heart and soul of Atletico. Ex­pect him to stay and re­build.

Fly­ing start to the sec­ond half: An­toine Griez­mann raced clear and del­i­cately chipped home.

Get low: An­toine Griez­mann strokes in his first.

Paint the town red and white: Atletico play­ers celebrate their suc­cess.

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