France lock horns with Portugal in the capital in a bid to win the prestigious European Championships in home soil for the second time in their history.
Didier Deschamps’ Blues have so far been riding on a wave of support from a nation with a long and rich history of footballing tradition, more recently suffered two national tragedies involving incidents of terror.
The national team however as been a source of pride for the fans giving them a sense of identity – when it was in question and while there are parallels between this campaign and the victorious 1998, it will be a grave error to underestimate Sunday’s opposition in a resilient Portugal side. Following a surprisingly comfortable 2-0 win against the world champions, France do start the game as overwhelming favorites and will be determined to live up to it.
For Portugal, this has been a remarkable tournament – to realize what they have achieved with an assemblage of talent, young and old, they have showed how a good a team they can be when they are all in together pulling in the same direction – obviously led by the charismatic Cristiano Ronaldo.
Although, the team and the nation is much bigger than an individual, the success can be attributed to Ronaldo’s coming of age in an international tournament – leading from the front when he is expected to, particularly in the latter stages of the tournament. Portugal midfielder Joao Mario summed up the feelings outside France in the pre-match presser touching on how the French media had dismissed his side’s chances with history against them and that they are only well suited to the underdog role. He said,
“France are playing at home but they haven’t shown their spectacular football. We know we always lose to them but this will motivate us. The French media are sure of the win (for France.) We have lost a final already but this time we can make it.”
Pepe (thigh) faces a battle to prove his fitness after missing the semi-final victory over Wales. Midfielder 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.
4 – 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).
34 – Portugal have played the most games in the history of the European Championships without ever winning the tournament.
13 – Portugal are unbeaten in their 13 competitive fixtures under Fernando Santos (winning nine and drawing four). Eight of those nine wins were decided by a single goal.
Luis Nani – Portugal
With the limelight on three time Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldo, Nani has been one of the best performers for Portugal in this tournament. The ex-Man United winger has scored all the crucial goals for his side – his most recent strike coming in the semi-final against Wales – just goes to show how good a player he can be for the big occasions. The final, being the biggest of all and with the French defenders likely to double team on Ronaldo, Nani can make a lasting impact on the outcome of the final – if he could bring his A-game.
Olivier Giroud – France
Griezmann might be France’a go to man and even the player of the tournament but one of the main reasons why the Athletico Madrid striker is enjoying the second striker role he is playing is the ability of Giroud to make the right lay-off, pass and movement at the right time – confounding defenders to their advantage. His power in the air could be vital with the amoint of talent the French side have on set pieces and the possible absence of Pepe which is why the Arsenal man could seal the way the trophy is heading on Sunday.
France are going to have a really tough time keeping Portugal from scoring but will eventually have too much for them at the other end.
Portugal 1-2 France