ISTRA, Russia (Reuters) - Friday’s World Cup quarter-final against Uruguay will be like a family affair for France forward Antoine Griezmann, who in his 13 years in Spain has developed strong ties with the South American nation.
The Atletico Madrid striker began his soccer career with Real Sociedad’s youth team in 2005 and moved up the ranks to play with the professional side in 2009 before joining Atletico in 2014.
In both clubs he linked up with Uruguayan players, notably Carlos Bueno at Real Sociedad and Diego Godin, his daughters’ godfather, at Atletico.
“(Godin) is a great friend, I always hang out with him off the pitch. It’s going to be a very emotional game for me,” Griezmann, who has scored two penalties at this World Cup, told a news conference a day after Les Bleus knocked out Argentina in a 4-3 classic.
At Real Sociedad, Uruguayan coach Martin Lasarte spotted his talent and put him straight into the first team alongside Carlos Bueno.
Bueno, 11 years older than Griezmann, took the young forward under his wing, and the pair formed a profitable striking partnership which fired the club back into the Spanish top flight.
“He took me under his wing and taught me how to drink ‘mate’,” said Griezmann, who is frequently seen holding a flask of the bitter tea loved by Argentinians and Uruguayans.
It continued when he went to Atletico, where the fitness coach, Oscar ‘the professor’ Ortega is also from Uruguay, and where he met Gimenez, Godin and also Cristian Rodriguez who left in 2015.
When Uruguay sealed qualification for the World Cup last October, Griezmann donned a Uruguay shirt and drove to Madrid airport to greet the two defenders when they returned. He also frequently declares his support for Uruguay in social media posts when they are in action.
He has also been made an honorary member of Penarol, one of Uruguay’s biggest clubs and where Rodriguez plays.
The friendship, however, will count for little when France take on Uruguay for a place in the semi-finals.
“Gimenez and Godin know everything about me, and I know everything about them,” the Frenchman said.
“We’ll have to be focussed on every little detail and defend well on set pieces.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot and Richard Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson