Antoine Griezmann is France's hero but his roots are in Portugal
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 10/07/16 7:28pm
France is counting on its new national hero Antoine Griezmann to beat Portugal on Sunday, but the player's own history with the country is deep rooted, writes Adam Bate.
In some respects, Macon is quintessential France. Situated in the heart of the country in the southern Burgundy region, it's a town of 40,000 people, a short drive from Lyon and surrounded by vineyards. It was here that Antoine Griezmann, Euro 2016 top scorer and France's newest hero, honed his skills.
The rise of Griezmann
Ahead of Sunday's final against Portugal, we look at Antoine Griezmann's unlikely rise to the top.
But while it's at Union Football Maconnais where Griezmann's Real Sociedad shirt adorns the wall - complete with a signature and the line "for the team that made me" - it's at the town's smaller club where his journey really began. Sporting Macon is the town's Portuguese community club.
This is where Griezmann's brother Theo still plays his football. The Portuguese contingent in Macon is strong and the football roots firm. Among the first to emigrate there was Griezmann's own grandfather, Amaro Lopes, a "tough but fair" defender for Paco de Ferreira in the Portuguese top flight.
Amaro emigrated to France with his wife Carolina in 1957, part of a wave of families fleeing the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Griezmann's uncle Jose recalls his parents helping with the paperwork to get others to safety in France. Amaro died in 1992 but his efforts are remembered - an annual tournament is still played in Macon in his honour.
It's a history of which Griezmann - he would be called Antoine Lopes Griezmann if he'd adopted the Portuguese naming custom - is well aware. Indeed, according to his uncle, he even briefly considered representing Portugal during the period in which he was banned by France for being among those who visited a nightclub on Under-20 duty in 2013.
Instead, Didier Deschamps acted quickly in awarding Griezmann his senior debut just a month after the ban was lifted and the player found himself up against Portugal later that year. "It will be special because of my grandfather," he told L'Equipe at the time. "I'm going to think about it when I take the field. I do not know how to honour him."
He's done that in his own way this summer. The boy who was rejected once by Lyon and twice by Metz for being too small is all grown up. The technical ability that has so wowed them at Atletico Madrid is now lighting up the whole of Europe. Griezmann's uncle continues to argue that his nephew's style is all Portuguese.
But it's France for whom he's delivering when needed most. There was the last-minute winner against Albania in the group stage and the quick-fire brace against Ireland to turn the last-16 tie on its head. Against Germany on Thursday, he netted two more to book a final place in Paris. The opponents, of course, are Portugal.
And so, there's the chance for the Griezmann story to come full circle. The darling of France is tasked with scoring against the country of his grandfather. What's certain is that the Portuguese community of Macon will be watching on, overwhelmed with pride. And perhaps with just a hint of a thought of what might have been.