It seems like an eternity ago when the host nation took to the field against Romania in the first match of Euro 2016, but here we are some five weeks or so later with our finalists: the French will take on Portugal for the right to be called European champions.
Didier Deschamps men have a chance of making history here: they could be the third France side to win a tournament on home soil following the classes of ’84 and ’98.
Standing in their way are Portugal, who have upheld a fine tradition started by Greece more than a decade ago in this competition by being bang average but yet reaching the final anyway. The Greeks lifted the trophy in 2004, so can Cristiano Ronaldo & co upset the applecart here as well?
Griez the Man
You couldn’t ask for a greater contrast between these two sides. Portugal’s strategy has been to bore the life out of their opponents with rigid defensive organisation, let them tire themselves out and then take advantage late in the game. It’s basically the footballing equivalent of the ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic used by Muhammed Ali in the classic Rumble in the Jungle.
But we mustn’t write them off completely. Ronaldo can change a game in an instant, as he did with that glorious header against Wales in the semi-finals, Renato Sanches looks an outstanding prospect and Nani, well, is okay.
Their tactic of allowing their opponents to have the ball is fine when you’re playing the likes of Hungary (who put three past them), Poland or Croatia, but when you enable the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet to have time and space, you are likely to pay the ultimate price.
Ah, sweet prince Antoine. The 11/1 shot for the Golden Boot has been the outstanding player of the tournament, and with five goals in his last three games he will have this Portuguese backline in his sights. Real Madrid’s Pepe will come back into the Portugal side following injury; and the rugged centre-back was powerless to stop the Atletico frontman netting the winner in the Madrid derby back in February.
Fans of omens will also note with relish that France have beaten Portugal in each of their last ten meetings. The history books suggests the French resistance will be strong on Sunday evening.
Ooh La La
Don’t be fooled into thinking the Euro 2016 final will be a boring, rick-free affair with the teams passing the ball sideways for 90 minutes. France’s semi-final with Germany was incredibly open, surprisingly so, while the Euro 2012 showpiece saw Spain demolish Italy 4-0 in an encounter that saw some 15 shots on target. Portugal will try to shut the French down, but as Germany found to their cost that is not a simple task.
The result of such an end-to-end battle is that France will stretch the Portuguese and create numerous chances. Remember when Portugal were ripped to shreds periodically by Hungary in that 3-3 draw? This could be on a par with that.
From a betting perspective, that could manifest itself in a number of ways. The Evens being offered by most bookmakers on a France win is remarkably generous, and we’re not entirely sure what that is based on. Remember, Portugal have won just 1/6 inside 90 minutes at Euro 2016. As far as methods of doubling your money are concerned, you will find as few as risk-free as this.
Goals may well rain down on the Stade de France. If Deschamps’ side can score in the first half, which they have a habit of doing, then the Portuguese will need to chase the game. Their lines will become stretched, gaps will appear….you know the rest. Over 2.5 Goals at 13/8, or France with a -1 handicap at 3/1, are both viable investments.