Game of the Day: France vs Portugal, Paris, 20:00
It’s finally here. After the magic in Marseille and the lethargy in Lyon, it’s final time for Euro 2016. After all the games, the goals, the misses and the surprises, it’s down to two. France vs Portugal in Paris playing out a final few expected a month ago.
Portugal’s journey through the tournament has hardly been noteworthy. To put it mildly if Portugal were to win this tournament, the DVD package is going to be worse than a re-run of Cash in the Attic on a Monday afternoon.
In the semi-final against Wales, it was more a case of a poor performance from Chris Coleman’s men as it was anything to do with a great Portugal showing. Cristiano Ronaldo’s header was the true difference between the sides, as Nani’s second appeared mere good fortune.
Through the tournament Portugal have failed to impress. A lack of goals, a continued willingness to sit deep and a constant sense that Cristiano Ronaldo’s motives appear greater than that of the teams, as seen Portugal become stagnant, performances disjointed.
And yet, can you really write them off on Sunday night? This Portugal side do seem very good at one thing and that is progressing. Finishing third in their group meant they found themselves on the easy side of the draw. The defeat of Croatia came in the 117th minute, against Poland it was penalties. Fernando Santos has ridden his luck but who is to say that it can’t happen one last time?
France on the flip side win and appear to peaking just when it matters most. Unconvincing in the group stages, France came from behind against the Republic of Ireland with a performance in the second half that in hindsight seems to be there ‘coming of age’ moment. And since then France have just decided it’s time to play football.
Antoine Griezmann. A new national hero. 6 goals in the tournament, 5 in his last three games and now the European Championship final beckons. His abilities are unquestionable but in the second game of the tournament, it was to be Griezmann and Paul Pogba who were the scapegoats for France’s failings against Romania on opening night.
Left out the side against Albania, both came off the bench to change the game and duly delivered. Since then, each player has stepped up to the plate. Pogba’s seems a different animal from June the 10th, Griezmann embodies a class that few players possess in the game today.
So who will be crowned champions come Paris?
If France’s big test was Germany in Marseille, then they passed the test with flying colours. Deschamps demonstrated a tactical awareness that he hasn’t really had to use until the semi-final. More often tasked with finding a way to break a team down in this tournament, Deschamps set up France to set a little deeper. They sacrificed the wings for a compactness in and around the 18 yard box and with Moussa Sissoko, Dimitri Payet, Matuidi, Pogba, Griezmann and Giroud; France had the personnel to launch deep counter attacks built around incisiveness and clever interplay.
Portugal however aren’t Germany. They haven’t the technical ability, the players or the expectation to go and dominate a game. Deschamps will once more be tasked with being the team on the front foot, trying to engineer a breakthrough rather building the foundation to launch a counter attack. But France has passed that test throughout this tournament.
And for France’s belief, their ability to score and a burgeoning sense of team spirit, surely you have to back Deschamps to engineer yet another major tournament win on French soil. Portugal certainly have the talent to trouble the hosts but troubling the opposition and putting them to the sword are two very different things.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog