Griezmann emerges as challenger to Bellingham for most decisive player in Spain

AP , Friday 19 Jan 2024

After scoring a gorgeous winner to eliminate Real Madrid from the Copa del Rey, Antoine Griezmann once again eclipsed Jude Bellingham in their duel to be considered the most decisive player in Spain.

Atletico Madrid's French forward #07 Antoine Griezmann acknowledges supporters before the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at the Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on January 18, 2024. Photo: AFP


Griezmann beat Vinícius Júnior to the ball, danced down the end-line and curled a shot into the only spot he could – at a slim angle, just over the shoulder of goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. That third goal in added time put Atletico ahead for good in its 4-2 win over Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

“Our substitutes gave us a boost and then the magic player that Griezmann is did his thing,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said about the keys to victory that put his side into the quarterfinals.

Madrid’s only two losses in 29 games across all competitions this campaign, including the Champions League, have both come at the hands of Atletico.

Griezmann also notched the winner when Atletico beat Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish league in September. He likewise scored for Atletico in a 5-3 added-time loss to Madrid last week in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup played in Saudi Arabia.

Win or lose to Atletico's fiercest rival, Griezmann gave his all for his side by also acting as its best playmaker and helping his midfield in defense – a requisite for any player who wants to stay in Simeone’s good graces.

And this for a player who Barcelona sent back to Atletico following two frustrating seasons after never being able to exploit his talents that helped France win the 2018 World Cup.

Since Griezmann's return to Atletico in Sept. 2021, it is like he never left. The 32-year-old Griezmann etched his name into the lore of Atletico by becoming its all-time leading scorer in Riyadh. The club honored that achievement Thursday with a dedicatory playing shirt with the number 174 goals that broke Luis Aragonés's previous record. Griezmann then made it 175 goals in the victory.

“We have been fortunate to beat Madrid twice, and it is true that we are very strong at home,” Griezmann said. “I am very happy with the effort of the entire team. We are tired and don’t have much time to rest (before a league game at Granada on Monday), but we are thrilled.”

While Griezmann continued to thrive against Madrid, Atletico proved again to be one of the very few teams that can keep Bellingham from completely running wild.

Bellingham hit the woodwork early in Thursday’s game and set up Joselu Mato to make it 2-2, but he was denied a goal.

Bellingham has quickly emerged as a world-class star after joining Madrid from Borussia Dortmund last summer. The 20-year-old has scored 17 goals, including a league-high 13 that have proven key to putting Madrid near the top of the table at just one point behind surprise leader Girona.

Griezmann has just bettered that tally with 18 goals overall. Atletico, however, has had some tough losses in the league in recent rounds and finds itself in fifth place at a full 10 points adrift Madrid.

Madrid will have a chance to avenge the cup defeat on Feb. 4 when Atletico visits the Santiago Bernabeu in the league.

"Atlético, like us, made a tremendous effort. Nobody deserved to lose. We lost, but we have to look forward," Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "Now we have two weeks to work well and improve our fitness.”

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