Euro 2016: France meets Portugal in an epic finale in Paris
All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann as they meet for another title showdown when Portugal faces France in the European Championship final on Sunday, just six weeks after they contested the Champions League final.
Ronaldo was on the winning side as Real Madrid won the Champions League Final at Milan, with the Portugal captain scoring the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout against Griezmann’s Atletico Madrid.
As expected host France will begins as favourites to lift the trophy against largely unfancied opponents, who have doggedly fought their way to the final despite little attacking fluency.
Not only will France have the host nation crowd behind it at the Stade de France, but Griezmann has been on sparkling form with a tournament-leading six goals — double the tally of Ronaldo, who has toiled and grumbled his way through Portugal’s stodgy campaign.
Both goals in France’s semifinal victory over World Cup champions Germany were scored by Griezmann, who managed to convert a penalty and scored another from German goal-keeper Manuel Neuer’s mistake.
France have been ruthless in front of the goal, with scoring 13 goals in the tournament. One more would see them equal the record for the most goals at a single European Championship (set by the French in 1984).
Crucial to their success has been the clinical form of Antoine Griezmann, now heavily odds-on to win the Golden Boot after taking his tournament tally to six with two goals against Germany.
France has won its last 10 games against Portugal, whose last victory over the hosts came in 1975. And Fernando Santos, who began his reign 21 months ago with a loss to France in the Stade de France, has seen his team win only once inside 90 minutes at Euro 2016 — against Wales in the semifinals.
France’s pedigree in finals is far stronger than Portugal’s, particularly at home where the prize was collected at the 1984 European Championship and 1998 World Cup. The only time France has won silverware away from Paris was Euro 2000, while the sole final loss was on penalties to Italy at the 2006 World Cup.
But European Championship finals do not always follow the script – as the Portugal players involved in their shock defeat by Greece in 2004 can testify. Twelve years on and it is the Portuguese cast in the role of unfashionable underdogs and their opponents France who must withstand the pressure and capitalise on home advantage.
Ronaldo’s inconsistency is the main worry for Portugal as he has only scored in two of Portugal’s six games in France. But he is only one goal away from scoring a 10th European Championship goal and breaking Michel Platini’s 32-year record.
France has only failed to win one of its games in the tournament, a 0-0 draw with Switzerland in the group stage, While Portugal failed to win a single match in group stages.
Winning the final would be a relieving experience for a country still in a state of emergency following a wave of extremist attacks across Paris on 13 November that killed 130 people. The attacks began at the Stade de France where suicide bombers detonated devices after failing to force their way into France’s match against Germany. The sole victim at the stadium was a chauffeur, who was born in Portugal.