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After two thrillers in midweek it’s France and Portugal that line up for the Final of Euro 2016 on Sunday night, and it’s a fitting showpiece to what has been a great tournament. Both sides prevailed by two goals to nil in the semi finals versus Germany and Wales, and both will rightly feel they can go on and win it. Advantage and favouritism must be with the French though, who benefited from an electric atmosphere when they beat Germany in Marseille.
It will be the culmination of two years of preparation for France if they can leap the final hurdle, while it’s possibly one of Ronaldo’s last chances to win international honours with his beloved Portugal. He was inspirational in the 2-0 defeat of Wales, scoring one and setting up the other (albeit with a mishit shot), and it is an opportunity for him to grab the headlines for the right reasons. His main antagonist for title of the world’s best player – Lionel Messi – is having a torrid summer after defeat in the Copa America final with Argentina where he missed a penalty, announcing his retirement from international football, and going through the courts due to tax evasion in Spain. Ronaldo will not want to miss another opportunity to show the world what he thinks – i.e. that he is the best.
Semi Final Pointers
It was a trademark bullet header from Ronaldo which opened the scoring against Wales – his third of the tournament – and when Nani swept in the second moments later is was effectively game over. Portugal impressed with their defensive organisation, and their game plan against France will almost certainly be to sit back and soak up pressure, while allowing the likes of Sanches, Nani and Ronaldo to break with pace.
France went toe-to-toe with Germany in what was by far the more open of the two semi finals, and in truth if the Germans had been more clinical they could have been at least a goal to the good by half time. France rode their luck on several occasions and looked fragile at the back, but they grew into the game and in the end looked rather more solid. The shock award of a late first half penalty was greeted with glee by the French who could hardly believe their luck, and Antoine Griezmann made no mistake as he converted from 12 yards.
The man of the moment was on hand to poke in the second after good work from Pogba, and with six goals on the board already, he is practically certain to claim the golden boot. He’s been at his clinical best over the last few games, having had a quiet start to the competition, and in this sort of mood he’s almost impossible to stop. The knack of being in the right place at the right time is a striker’s instinct, and any loose ball in the box at the moment appears to be falling to the feet of Griezmann.
Goals in Store?
Of course there is the chance – as we have seen in many a final – of a dour 0-0 draw as both teams shut up shop for fear of losing. So will there be goals on Sunday night? I’ll stick my neck out and say that there will, despite expecting Portugal to play on the defensive for much of the game. France have struggled to break down ultra-defensive sides at this tournament in Romania and Albania, requiring last minute goals to grab three points, but they overwhelmed Ireland after going a goal down in the round of 16, then tore Iceland apart in the quarter finals. It will suit France more to be the dominant team as their obvious weakness is in their organisation at the back. Germany were able to put them under pressure with numbers in the semi final, but Portugal are likely to be somewhat less adventurous.
The Portuguese will have great trust in their defence and if they can snatch a goal on the break it will be backs to the wall for the rest of the game. Alternatively if France open the scoring, they will be forced to come out and attack and that’s when the game will open up.
France have won the last four meetings (three friendlies, one World Cup qualifier), while the last tournament meeting was at Euro 2000, where Zidane scored a golden goal penalty after Abel Xavier’s controversial handball. They’ve only failed to score once in this competition – the 0-0 draw with Switzerland when qualification from the group was already secured – and they are good enough to break down Portugal and continue the record.
Griezmann is the man for France right now, and he will go into the final full of confidence.
Antoine Griezmann to Score First
Sunday 10th July, 20:00 GMT
Odds: 4/1 5.00 +400 4.00 4.00 -0.25