Paris is the place to be tonight when pre-tournament favourites and hosts France go head to head against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in European football’s showpiece event, the European Championship final, at the Stade de France.
The expectant host nation begin as favourites to lift the trophy against largely unfancied outsiders, who have stubbornly fought their way to the final despite little attacking fluency. But European Championship finals do not always follow the script – as the Portugal players involved in their shock defeat by Greece in 2004 can testify. Twelve years on and it is Portugal, who will play the role of the underdogs and their opponents France who must withstand the pressure and capitalise on home advantage.
Portugal sealed a berth in the final following their 2-0 victory over Wales. It was Ronaldo’s bullet header in the second half, followed by Nani’s deflected shot of the Real Madrid forward’s kick that was sufficient for them to beat Gareth Bale and company. It was for the first time that Portugal had managed to win a match within 90 minutes. In the previous six fixtures, they settled for a draw, which saw the course of the match being decided in extra-time (Croatia) and penalties (Poland). Fernando Santos openly conceded his side are the tournament’s “ugly duckling”, but he promised during the group stages that they would reach the final – and so they did.
France, on the other hand, have been far more ruthless, with 13 goals. One more would see them equal the record for the most goals in a single European Championship. They also sealed a 2-0 win in the second semi-final against Germany. Antoine Griezmann gave them the lead from the spot before the Atletico Madrid star scored the second, which saw his side beat the World Champions. The hosts are unbeaten in the tournament and barring the goalless draw against Switzerland, they have won all their fixtures. Didier Deschamps’ side have a great chance to match the triumph of Euro 1984 and bring back a feelgood factor in the country, where 130 people were killed in November in the terror attacks across Paris.
Crucial to their success has been the clinical form of Griezmann, now heavily odds-on to win the Golden Boot. The 25-year-old’s exploit are all more remarkable given he was dropped from the starting XI following France’s opening game. He will meet Ronaldo on the other side – just six weeks after they contested the Champions League final – who has led from the front and dragged his country all the way to the final.
DATE, TIME AND COVERAGE
Sunday 10 July, 21:00 CEST (00:30 IST) kick-off. Live on ITV 1/HD (Sony Six/HD and Sony ESPN/HD). Live match commentary on BBC Football.
Pepe has been passed fit to play after returning to full training. The Real Madrid defender missed Wednesday’s semi-final win over Wales with a thigh injury and had been considered a doubt ahead of the Paris showpiece. William Carvalho is expected to return to the starting line-up after missing the semi-final through suspension.
France have no fresh injury concerns or suspensions. The host nation named an unchanged team in consecutive games for the first time in their European Championship history in the semi-final, and Deschamps could name the same XI again, despite French media speculation about N’Golo Kante being brought in to stiffen the midfield.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played – 24
Portugal Wins – 5
Draw – 1
France Wins – 18
HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES
04-Sep-15 – Friendly – Portugal 0-1 France
11-Oct-14 – Friendly – France 2-1 Portugal
05-Jul-06 – World Cup – France 1-0 Portugal
25-Apr-01 – Friendly – France 4-0 Portugal
28-Jun-08 – European Championship – France 2-1 Portugal
Portugal – WDWDDD
06-Jun – Euro 2016 – Portugal 2-0 Wales
30-Jun – Euro 2016 – Poland 1-1 Portugal
25-Jun – Euro 2016 – Croatia 0-1 Portugal
22-Jun – Euro 2016 – Hungary 3-3 Portugal
18-Jun – Euro 2016 – Portugal 0-0 Austria
14-Jun – Euro 2016 – Portugal 1-1 Iceland
France – WWDWWW
07-Jul – Euro 2016 – Germany 1-2 France
03-Jul – Euro 2016 – France 5-2 Iceland
26-Jun – Euro 2016 – France 2-1 Republic of Ireland
19-Jun – Euro 2016 – Switzerland 0-0 France
15-Jun – Euro 2016 – France 2-0 Albania
10-Jun – Euro 2016 – France 2-1 Romania
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo is simply impossible to ignore. Going into the semi-final clash against Wales, he had been criticised for his indifferent and frustrating performances throughout the tournament. It seems, though, every bit of criticism just motivates him even more and he was once again the difference between the two sides. The quest to win Portugal’s first trophy has taken on huge proportions for Ronaldo. His form has been mixed but his persistence has been a constant. Tellingly, his best performance came in the match which mattered the most, when he scored a towering header against Wales and assisted Nani in sealing the victory. The whole of Portugal and his million fans across the whole will be hoping he comes up with something similarly special tonight, in the final.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
France’s new national hero, Griezmann, has been charming fans across the globe with his silky moves on and off the ball and his ‘Hotline Bing’ celebration. After a difficult start to the tournament, which saw him being dropped for the second game against Albania, the Atletico Madrid forward has adapted well since. Leading the scoring charts on his own, with six goals and two assists, he is the odds-on favourite to win the Golden Boot and is also a major contender for the Golden Ball. He was arguably the best player on the pitch against Germany in the semi-final and has been encouraged to think that the Ballon d’Or for 2016 might be his if he wins this title. Portugal will be praying for him to have an off day, otherwise, it won’t bode well for them.
Renato Sanches v Paul Pogba
The middle of the park will once again be the key battlefield tonight. France boasts an all-action group, that was out-numbered against Germany. The movement of Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil especially caused issues, finding space behind the double-pivot. That role will be occupied by the 18-year-old Renato Sanches. It’s a big ask for a teenager to play such a crucial role, but one that doesn’t seem to phase him. He will be the key to Portugal chances tonight and will come against Pogba in the battle in the centre of the field. Pogba is one of the best midfielders in the world and has been one of the top performers for France in the tournament so far. His quality in midfield is, in a very real way, what makes France tick, and he will be a commanding presence in every phase of the game for them. Sanches lacks experience but he more than makes up for it in pure skill and determination. He was the best player on the field against Poland and will be hoping to produce a similar performance tonight. He will need to put up a stern challenge to Pogba’s brilliance, and if he can upend the French star, it will give Portugal a massive advantage in this match.
Portugal (4-1-3-2) – Rui Patricio; Cedric Soares, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; William Carvalho; Renato Sanches, Adrien Silva, Joao Mario; Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo.
France (4-2-3-1) – Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Samuel Umtiti, Patrice Evra; Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi; Moussa Sissoko, Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet; Olivier Giroud.
Name – Mark Clattenburg
Based – England
Age – 41
Games – 3
Yellow Cards – 13
Red Cards – 0
Penalties – 1
Portugal 10/3, Draw 21/10, France 11/10
This is a difficult game to predict! It will be a very tight game and one which could even go to penalties. If we have to go by the history, France are the heavy favourites to win this final. Even if we compare their recent performances, the hosts will once again edge Portugal by a wider margin. But history and form don’t mean anything in a final and it’s all about performing on the day. France backed by the crowd in Paris, will be obliged to attack Santos’ side and that could leave space for Ronaldo and co. And with the trophy on the line that will add more pressure to the occasion for both sides. Portugal will play how Greece played against them in 2004. They won’t take chances at the back and will play direct in attack. On paper, France are certainly the favourites to win this one but it won’t be a straightforward for them as everyone thinks. It could be a long night in Paris with Portugal eventually edging it in extra-time or on penalties and winning their first major tournament.
Predicted Score – Portugal 1-1 France (Portugal to win on penalties)
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.