Superstar’s perfect farewell gift Europa League final triumph
THE perfect farewell gift.
It's no secret the Europa League final may have been Antoine Griezmann's penultimate match for Atletico Madrid, with Barcelona not-so-subtly circling the French superstar.
And with silverware on the line in a blockbuster Europa League final with Marseille at Groupama Stadium in his homeland - which finished 3-0 in his side's favour - the striker showed just why the Catalans are sizing him up for huge money.
A superbly-crafted double saw Griezmann sign off in fitting circumstances, having now scored in every stage of the Europa League, and finish his Atletico career in the prolific manner which has the Socceroos on high alert for the upcoming World Cup.
It could have been a different story.
But after Valere Germain spurned a gilt-edged chance early for Marseille after a superb ball from Dimitri Payet, the striker stole the show.
In just the 21st minute, he struck against the run of play, pouncing on an unforgivable error from André-Frank Anguissa with typical poise to stroke past a flailing Steve Mandanda and hand his side a lead they never reneged.
Anguissa's horrific touch handed over possession with the centre-back's split, allowing the attacker to compose himself and stroll into a one-on-one with the stopper, and he was characteristically cool in dispatching his strike into the net.
Despite a largely Marseille dominated opening stanza, it was Griezmann's composed effort which separated the sides, and the feeling abounded that should they snatch another early after the break, it could be game over.
And so it proved, and again it was the talismanic Frenchman who punished the side from his homeland.
A nice volleyed down pass and an incisive run topped off with a glorious dinked finish iced the cake for Atletico who now had the silverware in their sights.
Marseille's task was mountainous, having lost skipper Payet to injury just after the half-hour mark. The attacker, whose form had largely powered the Ligue 1 side's cup run from the qualifying phase, was in tears as he departed the pitch and it was Griezmann who put his arm around the devastated captain to console his compatriot.
Without Payet it was difficult to see where the goals would come from for Rudi Garcia's side, and frustration prevailed as they searched desperately for a route back into the match with a stubborn Atletico back four firmly in their path.
Bouna Sarr was immense in midfield for Marseille, and Lucas Ocampos toiled with quality up and down his flank but Atletico were firmly on top and continue to turn the screws as they edged towards a third Europa League title in eight years.
The French side thought they had one back in the 81st minute as Konstantinos Mitroglou rose highest in the area, but his effort could only find the woodwork as the post spared Jan Oblak's blushes. The striker couldn't believe he hadn't reduced the deficit.
Firmly stocked with big game experience, the La Liga giants closed out the game expertly, despite not having the influence of manager Diego Simeone marshalling proceedings on the touchline. The boss continued to serve his stint in the stands after picking up a ban in the first leg against Arsenal at the Emirates.
But regardless, his side got the job done, as Griezmann led from the front to ensure the trophy returned to Madrid and made his club the equal most successful side in the competition's history.
With the seconds ticking down, Gabi compounded Marseille's pain, adding a third with a perfectly placed strike in the 89th minute.
Griezmann departed to an ovation on the 90 minute mark, replaced by club legend Fernando Torres, who will also depart this summer on the back of one final trophy with his boyhood club.
Their third title honour brings them level with fellow Spaniards Sevilla, and it was secured in incredibly professional circumstances to crown their return to the Europa fray after a 5 year absence despite a disappointing Champions League group stage exit.
Heartbreak for Marseille, but a well-deserved triumph for Atletico but in the future they'll quite possibly have to do so without their prolific striker - who could well be lining up against them in La Liga.
But for now, they'll celebrate long into the night with their trophy in toe.
The ultimate farewell gift for Griezmann after four years of loyal service.
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