Here we are, 50 games have already been played and we are now done to the last of the 51 matches of Euro 2016 and it’s the all important one as hosts France take on Portugal in the bid to be European Champions. If France were to win it would be their 4th European success while Portugal will look to exercise the demons of defeat on home soil back in 2004.
That night saw Portugal lose in front of their own fans to Greece in one of Football’s biggest upsets and a young Cristiano Ronaldo sobbed in front of a worldwide audience as major international tournament success eluded him. It’s the one thing missing from his huge trophy haul and he will look to finally add this to his collection this evening.
He is undoubtedly Portugal’s superstar but France now seem to have one that they can call their own, step forward Antonie Griezmann. The Atletico Madrid forward has scored a tournament high 6 goals and it was his double that saw his side get past the challenge of World Champions Germany in the Semi Finals.
The Golden Boot is almost in reach for Griezmann but you would guarantee that he would swap personal accolades if it meant that France could get their hands on the Henri Delaunay trophy. After their Semi Final win confidence will be high in the French camp but Portugal know what it’s like to have a homecoming party ruined and will set out to be the spoilers Tonight.
France found themselves under the pressure from Germany but their resistance was not to be broken that was thanks in no small part to Hugo Lloris and Samuel Umtiti. The Tottenham making a string of excellent saves while Barcelona new boy Umtiti playing in only his second ever game for France showed an experience past his years.
The question now is whether or not Didier Deschamps changes a winning formula. This France side seems to be getting better with every game but there has been a marked improvement since both Umtiti and Moussa Sissoko were drafted in due to suspension to both Adil Rami and N’Golo Kante. The latter were left on the bench for Thursday’s Semi Final and Deschamps will now have to decide whether he shuffles the pack again.
For Portugal the only decision that Fernando Santos has to make is whether or not Pepe is drafted back into the side after recovering from the thigh injury that saw him miss his side’s Semi Final win over Wales on Thursday night.
Although Pepe is a disciplinary time bomb waiting to explode there is now doubting that he is too good a player to leave on the bench. Love him or loathe him and for a lot of people it’s very much the latter expect the Real Madrid man to slot straight back in the centre of defence.
His Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo scored the opener on Wednesday after that astonishing leap lead to him powering his header past Wayne Hennessy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still hanging in the air right now. Will France be able to deal with that aerial threat later on.
It won’t just be that threat that France will have to nullify as both Nani and Renato Sanches will look to hit France on the counter attack. Their Semi Final against Wales was cagey especially in the first 45 minutes as both teams like to counter so they nullified each other. Will France play a more open game and play right into Portugal’s hands.
The emergence of Griezmann on the true world stage has also made Oliver Giroud a better player. Their link up play has been impressive and Arsenal fans will be hoping that the Giroud on show over the last few weeks is the one that comes back to The Emirates for pre-season training, although if that is too happen you get the feeling that they would need to then buy Griezmann.
Portugal stuttered out of the group stages by drawing all three games and only on Wednesday did they win a game in 90 minutes. They haven’t been particularly impressive but they have got to the final and although they go into the game as the underdogs they cannot be ruled out.
I don’t think it will be a good result for the neutrals if Portugal were to go on and win this due to the fact that they have far from set this tournament alight that and the fact that it will make Cristiano Ronaldo even more unbearable.
That said if Ronaldo does go on to add this trophy to Champions League success back in May then he will once again be a shoe-in for FIFA’s World Player of the Year come December that and he probably pays his tax bill.
France as a nation have been united since the start of the tournament something that the country needs after the events of last November. A win tonight may not bring closure but it would be a fitting way to really bring the country together evoking memories of winning the World Cup back in 1998 amidst a backdrop of racial tension.
The will of the people alone doesn’t win you football matches but it can certainly go a long way to helping.
I think the partisan Parisian crowd will add a massive boost to France’s chances and I think there’ll be no last night nerves as France go on to win their first European Championship since 2000.
A France win for me as a tournament which has had memorable moments but has not necessarily been a classic comes to and end. Allez Les Blues