A proud host nation will be expecting to salute an emotional and famous triumph on Sunday evening, as France contest the final of Euro 2016 against a Portugal team that is aiming to upset the odds and win a major tournament for the first time in their footballing history.
There is no question that France are heavy favourites to collect their third European Championship crown, not only for the strength of their squad and sheer volume of quality attacking options, but due to the manner in which both sides have reached this final. Many feel – with some justification – that Portugal are extremely fortunate to have made it this far.
They have certainly been major beneficiaries of the new 24-team format, edging through the group stage as one of the four best third-placed sides after drawing their opening three matches. In the last 16 they were truly awful, but were lucky to come up against a Croatia side that also had a collective off-night, while they then needed penalties to see off Poland in the last eight.
And maybe it can be said that Portugal might be coming good at the right time, as their display in the semi-final win over Wales was their most convincing thus far. Two goals in quick succession came early in the second half and their advantage never looked under threat, finally allowing for a first victory for Fernando Santos’ men inside 90 minutes at this competition.
It will be fascinating to see if Cristiano Ronaldo has saved his best performance this summer for this final, having only shown fleeting glimpses of his prowess despite finding the net on three occasions. His presence ensures that France cannot take this one totally for granted, and they should also watch out for prodigious teenager Renato Sanches, who is playing without fear.
Pepe faces a race against time to be fit, but on the whole Portugal have tightened up defensively during the knockout stages and here they must contemplate the task of containing the tournament’s top scorer. With six goals to his name, Antoine Griezmann is the darling of France, and will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Michel Platini in 1984 and propel his side to victory on home soil.
The confidence the Atletico Madrid star showed when he tucked away his penalty kick to open the scoring against Germany in the semi-finals was indicative of a man at the top of his game. Later on in the match his goal-poaching ability brought him the second to clinch a notable success over the world champions.
That was a major test and they came through it in spite of conceding the majority of possession and territory. It was quite a turnaround after being on the front foot for each of their five outings up until that point, with Samuel Umtiti making a mockery of his lack of international experience by turning in a fine display at centre-back.
Rumours have surfaced this week that Paul Pogba could be the subject of a £100m bid from Manchester United, but this is the time for him to dominate a solid, though unspectacular Portuguese midfield and inspire his country to a success that will mean a huge amount, for reasons that go way beyond football.
Should this game need to be won from the bench, then unlike his opposite number Didier Deschamps has an array of options to pick from in order to affect proceedings. It may be an evening of patience for France as the underdogs are likely to be content to soak up pressure and use Ronaldo as their main attacking outlet, but throughout this tournament they have been adept at finding a way to win and it would be a sizeable shock should they fail to do so.
It would bring to an end a European Championships like no other. More competing teams than ever before, the epic journeys embarked on by the likes of Wales and Iceland, and another roaring atmosphere for the ultimate showpiece occasion at the Stade de France.
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