Football

Poignant final beckons France; battle-ready Portugal awaits

Cristiano Ronaldo’s battle-hardened Portugal stand between hosts France and a cathartic victory in Sunday’s Euro 2016 final at the Stade de France.

The stadium was targeted by suicide bombers during France’s friendly against Germany last November in attacks across Paris that left 130 people dead.

It cast a black shadow over the tournament, but following a joyous semifinal victory over Germany, France aims to prevail in a third major final on home soil after the 1984 European Championship and 1998 World Cup.

“There is lots of fervour and lots of joy and happiness in France,” France coach Didier Deschamps said after the 2-0 win over Germany in Marseille.

“It’s a really great story. We don’t claim to have the power to solve all the problems of the French people. But we have the power to generate emotions and make them forget their worries.”

Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty for Atletico Madrid in its Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid in May and made a poor start to the Euro in France’s 2-1 win over Romania.

But after coming on to net a 90th-minute opener against Albania, he has emerged as the star of the tournament, scoring in knockout-phase wins over the Republic of Ireland, Iceland and Germany.

With six goals — three more than any other player — the 25-year-old is in line for both the Golden Boot and the UEFA player of the tournament prize.

Ronaldo, however, served a timely reminder of his ability to decide a game with a brilliant bullet header in Portugal’s 2-0 semifinal win over Wales.

And having turned 31 in February, the Real Madrid superstar knows he may not get a better chance to inspire his country to a first major international trophy.

Ronaldo has never tasted victory against France, but he is not alone as Portugal has lost the last 10 meetings between the countries, stretching back to 1975.

France has twice beaten Portugal en route to Euro success, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane netting extra-time winners in the semifinals of the 1984 and 2000 tournaments.

France also overcame Portugal in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, before losing on penalties to Italy in what was its last major tournament final.

Portugal was stunned 1-0 by Greece as hosts of Euro 2004 in its only previous major final appearance.

Deschamps’s side will start as favourite, but although Portugal’s win over Wales was its first inside 90 minutes since its arrival in France, it is wily and dangerous.

“We believe in ourselves, we have always believed,” said midfielder Joao Mario. “The coach has given us this confidence, this spirit.

“There are always critics, even in Portugal, but we believe and we will try to show that in the final.”

For Portugal coach Fernando Santos defensive midfielder William Carvalho will return from suspension in a match expected to attract a global television audience of 300 million.

For France, Deschamps must decide whether to keep faith with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which has allowed Griezmann to flourish, or bring in midfielder N’Golo Kante and revert to a 4-3-3.


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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 11:13:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/Poignant-final-beckons-France-battle-ready-Portugal-awaits/article14480289.ece

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