France’s 2-0 victory over Germany was among the best matches of the tournament and the hosts will now face Portugal on Sunday at the Stade de France, with Dider Deschamps’ side strong favourites. After all, Fernando Santos’ men only secured their first victory in 90 minutes at the tournament in the semi-finals against a Wales team that was hampered by suspensions and that seemed to have run out of steam and ideas in the absence of Aaron Ramsey in particular.
The final is unlikely to rival the game between France and Germany for quality but it should be an intriguing affair nonetheless. Portugal have made it this far due to an impressive defensive resilience that ensures their matches never get away from them, but they are underdogs. They have lost their last 10 matches against France, including both meetings in the five-team qualifying group from which Portugal emerged.
If Portugal are looking for redemption it’s not over France but their desire to put right the wrongs of their own past, most specifically the final of Euro 2004. As the host nation of the tournament 12 years ago, they were expected to beat Greece in the final and win their first major competition. Greece had won just two of their five matches in 90 minutes en route to the final and Phil Scolari’s team were tipped for glory. Cristiano Ronaldo was the emerging star at the time – with Renato Sanches having taken that role at this tournament – with Luís Figo, Rui Costa and Deco the established stars who were expected to have too much for Greece. But Portugal fell to a shock defeat, just as they had done in the opening game of the tournament.
The roles are reversed this time around, with Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann making hosts France the team packed with talent, but Portugal will be confident that they can frustrate France in the way Greece frustrated them.
Portugal cannot afford to sit deep and defend all game, and will need Cristiano Ronaldo to be in the limelight, where he usually is and always likes to be. HE had the chance to break Michel Platini’s European Championship goals record, having equalled the Frenchman’s tally of nine with a goal against Wales on Wednesday – albeit over four tournaments to Platini’s one – and he will be determined to get his name in the history books regardless of the result.
Despite a decent showing against Wales, Ronaldo has been far from his best and rarely reaches that level for the national side. If he could inspire a shock victory to help Portugal to their first ever major trophy, that much would be forgotten in an instant.
Ultimately this game may need a moment of real brilliance to spark into life or settle the outcome altogether. France have more players capable of creating such moments but Portugal are experts in ensuring that they always have a chance, be that of nicking the game or forcing extra time, no matter the opponent. Here’s hoping an early goal can transform this match into the spectacle the tournament deserves.
Portugal: Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, Alves, Guerreiro; Sanches, Carvalho, Mario, Silva; Nani, Ronaldo
France: Lloris; Sagna, Koscielny, Umtiti, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Sissoko, Griezmann, Payet; Giroud
Prediction:- France 2-4 Portugal