MADRID - Antoine Griezmann has taken time to settle at
Atletico Madrid but the France forward's fine hat-trick at Athletic Bilbao on
Sunday was more evidence he could be a key man for the Spanish champions this
Griezmann is one of several new faces at Atletico, where
coach Diego Simeone is attempting to integrate them into the team as they seek
to defend the La Liga title they won last term for the first time in 18 years.
The 23-year-old from Macon in central France, who recently
appeared sporting a fearsome-looking Mohawk hairstyle, nodded the equaliser
just after halftime before finishing clinically after a breakaway in the 73rd
minute and tapping home from close range 10 minutes from time to wrap up a 4-1
The win left Atletico in third place on 35 points going into
the two-week winter break, four behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in
hand following their Club World Cup triumph on Saturday, and three behind
Simeone said Griezmann had played "a fabulous second
half" which illustrated why Atletico had paid a reported 26.4 million
euros ($32.4 million) to lure him from Real Sociedad.
"We have a lot of confidence in his talents and we need
him," Simeone told reporters.
"Hopefully, today's game will be an important moment
for him for his confidence and his work," the Argentine added. "He
has been working hard for a while and when it has been his turn to play he has
Griezmann, who said the performance had been his best since
joining Atletico, moved to Sociedad at the age of 13 and after breaking into
the first team helped the Basque club win promotion back to the top flight.
His international career was set back by a suspension for
disciplinary reasons when he was playing for the under-21 side, reportedly
after an unauthorised late-night excursion.
Once the ban was lifted, France coach Didier Deschamps
wasted little time in calling him up and he was a surprise inclusion in the
squad for the World Cup finals in Brazil ahead of Samir Nasri.
"All the matches motivate me and I have to really make
the most of the time on the pitch the coach gives me and give everything,"
Griezmann told Spanish television. "Hopefully this will be my usual level
and I can give even more to the team."
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