The month-long festival of football that has been EURO 2016 comes to a close today as Portugal and France go head to head tonight in the Stade de France to be crowned champions of Europe. 30 days ago France began the tournament in the same stadium and since then we have seen 24 teams give their all in the hope of lifting the famous trophy. We are now down to two teams who will battle it out in Saint-Denis tonight.
Path to the final
Portugal were underwhelming in the group stage drawing all three of their games to qualify as a best third placed team. They faced Croatia in the last 16 and were on the back foot for the majority of that game however a late Ricardo Quaresma goal in extra-time saw them progress to the last eight. Here they faced Portugal in what was yet another dull game. Poland took the lead though Robert Lewandowski before Renato Sanches’ deflected strike leveled the sides before the break. The following 45 minutes was difficult to watch and the subsequent half an hour of extra-time also dragged. In the end Portugal won it on penalties pipping the Poles 5-4. Wales awaited the Portuguese in the semi-final and for the first time we saw a glimpse of what this squad is capable of. Wales held Portugal until the 50th minute when captain and star player Cristiano Ronaldo soared in the square to head home the opening goal. Three minutes later the Real Madrid man’s scuffed shot found its way to Nani who slide home the second goal. Their first win inside 90 minutes for the tournament sealed their spot in tonight’s final.
France have made the most of their home advantage in this tournament to power their way to the final. The left it late to defeat Romania and Albania in the group stage before drawing with Switzerland. These results saw them top the group lining up a last 16 encounter against Ireland. Out of sorts Paul Pogba conceded a penalty inside the opening minute to allow Ireland to take the lead. However a 10 minute spell in the second half saw Antoine Griezmann demolish the Irish defence scoring a quick brace to see the hosts sail into the quarter-finals.Here France met the ultimate underdogs Iceland. France completely dominated the game and first half goals from Olivier Giroud,Paul Pogba,Dimitri Payet and Griezmann had the hosts 4-0 up at the break. Giroud headed in a fifth before the French defence gave up two cheap goals. France got the job done and moved into the semi-finals where they would face Germany. The Germans dominated the French in the opening half but good goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris and resilient defending kept France alive. Griezmann was the biggest threat going forward and he would give the hosts the lead from the penalty spot in injury time. Bastian Schweinsteiger handled the ball allowing the Frenchman to slot the spot kick home. The second half once again saw Germany on top but a defensive error from Benedikt Howedes gifted Pogba with possession his cross was flapped at by Neuer in the German goal and the ball fell to Griezmann who made no mistake in putting the game to bed. France had done enough and their place in the final was secured.
- France have won their last 10 games against Portugal. Their overall record is W18, D1, L5.
- France have defeated Portugal twice in the semi-final of a European championship. Michel Platini scored to knock them out of EURO 1984 while Zinedine Zidane scored in extra-time to see France though to the final of EURO 2000. Zidane also scored in the 2006 World Cup semi-final to knock Portugal out.
- Portugal have played the most games in the history of the European Championship without ever winning the tournament (34)
- Portugal are the first team to reach the final of the European Championship after ending third in the group stage.
- France have won three of their previous four finals at World Cups or Euros . They only time they ended as runners-up was at the 2006 World Cup when Italy defeated them on penalties.
- France are unbeaten in their last 18 games at World Cups or Euros on home soil, winning 16 and drawing two. Their last defeat came at the inaugural European Championship in 1960.
- In their only previous major final, Portugal lost 1-0 to Greece in the EURO 2004 final – a defeat made all the more agonising by the fact that they were tournament hosts.
- France have been the most prolific nation at the finals, scoring 13 goals at a rate of 2.17 per game;Portugal’s eight have come at a rate of 1.33 per game.
- France have hit the woodwork five times – more than any other side.
- Griezmann is the top scorer in EURO 2016 with six goal; his nearest rivals include Portugal’s Ronaldo and Nani as well as team-mates Payet and Giroud. All have scored three times.
Portugal’s penalty shootout record is W3 L1:
- 6-5 v England EURO 2004 quarter-final
- 3-1 v England 2006 World Cup quarter-final
- 2-4 v Spain EURO 2012 semi-final
- 5-3 v Poland EURO 2016 quarter-final
France’s penalty record in six competitive shootouts is W3 L3:
- 4-5 v West Germany 1982 World Cup semi-final
- 4-3 v Brazil 1986 World Cup quarter-final
- 5-4 v Netherlands EURO 96 quarter-final
- 5-6 v Czech Republic EURO 96 semi-final
- 4-3 v Italy 1998 World Cup quarter-final
- 3-5 v Italy 2006 World Cup final
NB: No team has won more than one penalty shoot-out at the same EURO finals.
The referee – Mark Clattenburg
- UEFA Euro matched officiated – 12
- Tournaments officiated at – 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup,2012 Olympic Games,2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
- Finals officiated: 2016 UEFA Champions League, 2016 FA Cup,2014 UEFA Super Cup, 2012 Olympic Games.
Portugal have no suspensions ahead of tonight’s game and will welcome back William Carvalho who missed the semi-final though suspension. Center-back Pepe is expected to start tonight returning from a shoulder injury that saw him sit out the Welsh clash. Here’s a possible starting eleven manager Fernando Santos might go with:
Possible XI: Rui Patricio; Cedric, Fonte, Pepe, Eliseu; Mario, Sanches, Moutinho, Silva; Nani, Ronaldo
France also have no suspensions or injuries heading into the final so coach Didier Deschamps can select his best eleven. The biggest decisions he faces is whether or not to start N’Golo Kante. The Leicester City man missed the quarter-final v Iceland due to suspension and didn’t start against Germany. Moussa Sissoko has taken his place and crucially has freed Antoine Griezmann. Sissoko operates on the left allowing Griezmann to move into the center where he can orchestrate attacks. If Kante plays Griezmann is pushed wide and the French attack is weakened. When Kante was subbed off atbhalf time against Ireland Griezmann moved into the center where he went on to score twice. Another decision for Deschamps comes in the back four. Adil Rami was suspened for the quarter-final clash and Samuel Umtiti replaced him earning his first cap. The Lyon center-back retained his place for the semi-final game against Germany and has been impressive so far. Does Deschamps trust the 22 year-old or does he bring in the experienced Rami? Here’s a possible starting eleven for Les Bleus tonight:
Possible XI: Lloris; Sagna, Umtiti, Kolscielny, Evra; Matuidi, Pogba; Payet, Greizmann, Sissoko; Giroud.
This game is going to be very close and extra-time and penalties are by no means unthinkable. Portugal will look to replicate what Greece did to them twelve years ago but this French side seems determined to please the home crowd. Victory would see France join Germany and Spain as three-time European champions.