May 22, 2018 / 2:07 PM / in 5 months

Griezmann kicks bad habits before World Cup challenge

PARIS (Reuters) - Antoine Griezmann was once famous for losing finals and doing funny things to his hair but he has changed all that before heading for Russia for the World Cup finals.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Atletico Madrid vs Eibar - Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain - May 20, 2018 Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann celebrates their second goal REUTERS/Juan Medina

The pocket-sized forward sported a short haircut instead of his trademark blond locks when he struck twice in a dazzling display to help his Atletico Madrid side outclass Olympique de Marseille 3-0 and win the Europa League for the third time.

The victory gave Griezmann his first major trophy after two famous 2016 defeats, at club level by city rivals Real in the Champions League final and with France against Portugal in the European Championship final. Cristiano Ronaldo was on the winning side on both occasions.

Two years on, the Frenchman with the boyish looks, who scored six goals and was named best player at Euro 2016, has rediscovered the form many believe will make him shine again in Russia.

Griezmann struggled early in the season before choice words from coach Diego Simeone kick-started a return to form.

Simeone had lamented that he did not “have the kind of player who can win games on his own”, which Griezmann was before the 2017-18 season kicked off and is now again.

“I am a better player thanks to him. I am among the best three players in the world because of him,” the striker said in a tribute to his Argentine coach.

In his first 10 La Liga appearances, Griezmann scored twice.

Simeone spoke up and the Frenchman bagged three in four games. He has since scored 12 goals in his last 11 league matches, including the equaliser against Real in a city derby at the Bernabeu.

“He is a great player, he is very strong in these moments mentally,” Simeone said. “He did not start the season well — he knows that. It is not easy to reinvent yourself on the run as he has done.”

After Atletico were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage they were parachuted into the Europa League and it was on a day when he did not score that Griezmann played one of his best games of the season.

In the semi-final second leg against Arsenal, the 27-year-old was scintillating as he inspired a 1-0 victory and 2-1 aggregate win, earning an eight out of 10 L’Equipe rating, a mark the sports daily repeated for his brace in the final.

His technical skills and vision were crucial to Atletico’s play as his splendid through ball found Diego Costa for the only goal of the second leg, and he was ice cool again in Lyon as the Spanish club outclassed Marseille.

Griezmann has scored three goals in eight games for France this season to take his tally to 19 in 51 internationals — a rate he will be intent on improving once his team start their World Group C campaign against Australia on June 16 before facing Peru and Denmark.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond

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