It would be difficult to argue that Euro 2016 has been one of the more thrilling tournaments we’ve recently had, but it has provided it’s own kind of charm. Throughout the group stage and early knock out rounds Iceland and Wales enjoyed fairytale results against opponents that outmatched them on paper. In the end though, we have one finalist that’s a bit of a surprise in Portugal, and another that many expected in the host nation; France. This final is an opportunity for Portugal to carry the underdog flag all the way onto the presentation stage and to the trophy podium. In the opposite corner, though, you’ve got an excellent crop of French youngsters who will want to make their marks by getting an early international competition winners medal. We’re going to look at some of the important aspects of the game on Sunday.
Fortunately both teams lack any suspensions or expected injuries, although Portugal’s Pepe has a bit of an issue with a thigh injury he is expected to be available for selection. William Carvalho returns from suspension and will likely replace Danilo in midfield. France will be able to revert to their more common center back partnership of Rami and Koscielny if Didier Deschamps choose, but Umtiti had a fantastic game against Germany so the youngster could retain his place.
The Game Changers:
Before the tournament began Portugal was criticized and dismissed as a one man team that may be able to get through the group stages but would struggle to get past the knockout stages due to an over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo. The opposite has proven to be the case, with players like Nani, Quaresma, Renato Sanches and Andre Gomes have all put in solid performances and pulled Portugal through the tournament. Ronaldo has managed to put away crucial goals, but most of his opportunities have been created through the legwork and effort of his entire team.
For France, their talismans are Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann. These two have shown why they’re rated as highly as they are by providing either goals or assists at crucial times throughout the tournament, and usually in games where clear opportunities are few and far between. Pogba hasn’t quite managed to justify the speculation that he should be regarded as the most expensive player in the world, but his performances have shown a maturity and determination that are rather unusual for a 23-year-old. Griezmann has been around the block a few more times though and is clearly comfortable in the limelight, his ability to pop up and turn a half chance into a goal will be much needed in the likely deadlock that most finals can become.
Both Portugal and France have a number of fantastic wide players, the French have Griezmann, Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial, and Sissoko, while the Portuguese have Ronaldo, Nani, and Quaresma. The game’s chances are likely to come from the wings quite often, so the full backs on either team will be limited in how much they can contribute to the attack. Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna have performed well throughout the tournament, but due to their age they could be seen as potential weak points.
One area where the Portuguese could come out second best is in midfield, despite the fact that their midfielders are all solid performers. The French just have an excess of quality in their own midfield that will take a lot of energy to compete against. Pogba’s athleticism and ability to carry the ball coupled with Blaise Matuidi’s immense work rate are both going to give the Portuguese a headache if they don’t track them with discipline.
Neither team really possesses a center forward that provides great contributions beyond hold-up play. Giroud is decent but he has as many disappointing performances as he does effective ones, and Ronaldo may be deployed out front theoretically but his tendency is to join the attack from wider positions.
While it would be quite a romantic end to Ronaldo’s international career it’s going to take monumental effort for Portugal to break through France in their backyard. Portugal have lost their last ten fixtures against the French, while France have an impeccable record of winning tournaments that they host. The French also just have a little too much dynamism and quality to call on that the Portuguese are unlikely to be able to keep at bay for a full 90 (or possibly 120?) minutes. While it’s likely to be a tight game, as all of them have been, the French have had a sense of inevitability in their games in terms of scoring. The Portuguese are capable of an upset, but it’s going to take a massive amount of focus to pin back what will likely be a formidable French lineup. Is Ronaldo going to break his international duck or will the French continue their home ground dominance?
Prediction: France 3-1 Portugal