SAINT PETERSBURG: A self-confessed lover of all things Uruguayan, from grilled meat to bitter-tasting infusion mate, France’s Antoine Griezmann knows not to expect any favourable treatment when confronted by close friend Diego Godin in Friday’s World Cup quarter-final.
Teammates at Atletico Madrid, Griezmann and Godin have formed such a bond over the past four years that the rugged defender is the godfather of Griezmann’s daughter Mia.
“Diego is a great friend. I am with him every day in Madrid,” Griezmann told reporters ahead of the clash in Nizhny Novgorod. “It is a nationality that I love, a people that I love. It will be a very emotional match for me.”
Griezmann’s love affair with Uruguay began when handed his breakthrough at Real Sociedad by Martin Lasarte in 2009.
Having spent his entire career in Spain, Griezmann has always had a steady stream of Uruguayan teammates.
He began drinking mate at Sociedad with former Uruguay striker Carlos Bueno and was persuaded to join Atletico in 2014 by Godin.
“He says he is Uruguayan,” said Godin. “He made his debut with Martin Lasarte and had a lot of time for him.
“He has always been surrounded by Uruguayan players. He likes how we are and our customs: eating the barbecue, our music, he even drinks more mate than me!”
At Atletico, Griezmann is the star and top scorer. Godin, though, is the embodiment of the dogged, determined and defensively brilliant side Diego Simeone has created in the Spanish capital.
“They will waste time, they will fall down, surround the referee. It’s their game, it’s the same at Atletico,” said Griezmann. “The match will be boring, they will want us to fall into their trap.”
Much as they may not seem it, those are meant as words of respect. Griezmann turned down overtures from Barcelona to commit his future to Atletico just before his World Cup began.
Griezmann turned down overtures from Barcelona to sign a new deal at Atletico just days after the World Cup began.
“They give everything for their teammates, it’s beautiful,” he added.
Griezmann has also witnessed Atletico beating the odds too many times against the likes of Real Madrid, Barca and Bayern Munich to take a place in the semi-finals for granted.
After labouring through to the last 16 as winners of Group C despite scoring just three goals, France sprang into life thanks to the speed of Kylian Mbappe in a thrilling 4-3 win over Argentina.
Griezmann was also on target with his second penalty of the tournament, but the breakout star and Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016 has not yet hit top form in Russia.
Instead he has been overshadowed by his blistering 19-year-old strike partner.
Griezmann, though, knows Godin and another Atletico teammate, Jose Maria Gimenez, will not give Mbappe the same space to exploit his pace that a disorganised Argentina did.
Uruguay have conceded just once in winning all seven of their matches in 2018.
“Do not expect him to do too much of the same in the quarters,” warned Griezmann of heightened expectations after Mbappe drew parallels with Pele when he became the first teenager since the Brazilian to score at least twice in a World Cup match.
“The Uruguayans will have watched the match, they will change the way to defend him. It’s up to us to put him in good positions.”