Hosts must overcome Portuguese obstacle with both sides vying to be champions of Europe…
After 50 matches spread over a month only two teams have been left standing at UEFA Euro 2016. Host France, contenders from the outset, will meet the tournament’s surprise package Portugal for the right to be crowned champions of Europe.
Road to Paris
For the French this journey culminates where it began. A dramatic 2-1 win over Romania on opening night set the ball rolling and was followed by a 2-0 triumph over debutants Albania along with a 0-0 draw against stubborn Switzerland. They encountered, but eventually overcame stiff resistance from the Republic of Ireland. The win over Iceland in the Quarterfinal was emphatic, while the subsequent one against Germany, a bit more fortuitous, but equally well earned.
One of the tournament’s ‘survivors,’ Portugal have by no means been spectacular, but have done enough to merit their place in the showpiece. With three draws from three games their passage from Group F was not straightforward. But, they made it through as one of the four best third-placed sides. Fernando Santos’ men had to rely on a late Ricardo Quaresma strike in extra-time to see off hotshots Croatia and it took penalties to separate them from plucky Poland. However, their 2-0 win over Wales in the Semi-Final provided their most convincing display yet.
These stats don’t make for good reading if you are a Portugal fan. A Selecao have lost to tonight’s opponents in the teams’ last 10 meetings dating back to 1975 and Portugal lost in their only previous appearance in the Final of a major tournament, that by a way of the defeat against Greece in the Final of Euro 2004, a tournament they hosted.
With the stakes being so high for both teams this could turn out to be a cagey affair. Portugal are by nature inclined to be more cautious. So, as hosts, it will fall on France to make much of the early running, with their opponents more than happy to play on the counter.
Experienced defender Pepe who missed the last game with a thigh problem is in a race to be fit for the showpiece with Bruno Alves his likely replacement. However, midfield strongman William Carvalho should return from suspension.
France have no fresh injury concerns or suspensions. The hosts named an unchanged team in consecutive games for the first time in their European Championship history in the Semi-Final, and manager Didier Deschamps could name the same XI again tonight
This will be the fourth meeting between Portugal and France in a major tournament. The French have won the previous three, all in semi-finals (Euro1984, Euro 2000, World Cup 2006).
Portugal have played the most games (34) in the history of the European Championships without ever winning the tournament.
Man to Watch
Portugal- Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portugal captain was one of the few players in this current group who was part of that unforgettable defeat to Greece in the Final in 2004 and it has left as much of a mark on him as it has on his country. That was Ronaldo’s first major international tournament for his homeland. Tonight, twelve years removed from that day, he will lead the side in what could be his last opportunity to win a major honour with his country. It is the only box the Real Madrid superstar has not ticked, in what has been a truly glittering and remarkable career. For a man who has always thrived on the big occasion, the motivation could not be greater.
With six goals and two assists Antoine Greizmann has been by a country mile the one standout star of the tournament and he will have a key role to play at the sharp end of the French attack if they are to penetrate a miserly Portuguese backline.
France have a history of winning major tournaments as hosts. They were the last side to win the Euros on home soil in 1984, while their only world title also came at home in 1998. So, while this is new territory for this squad, it is old turf for the nation. Of course the 80,000 plus partisan support at the Stade de France will also play their part. So, for Portugal it is as much about mastering the elements as it is about mastering their opponents on the pitch. In any event, it is a momentous opportunity for both sides and both have different yet equally strong motivation. The battle to find out who scales the summit is sure to have its twists and turns.
Preview by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.